Special Sneak Peek! – 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 concoughany, leaving Bill’s temples throbbing. He let out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose, uneasiness burrowed deep into his spine.

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

He was parked just outside the opulent home of Damien Cole, hidden deep in a national park outside of Denver. It was particularly difficult to reach, especially with Beast in tow. 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 instinct urged.

Another five minutes had passed and he still hadn’t moved. He wanted to listen to his impulses but that giant price tag was too tempting and he was too desperate. The big bounty. The last bounty. Yet, something about this job 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 the mere thought of his dues made it burn, throwing memory after terrible memory in his path. A reminder he would never forget.

 You’re mine forever, strákurinn minn, that horrible voice whispered in his mind.

A high pitch whine twisted form 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. We’ll finish this shit off.” He gritted his teeth, muttering, “And this time I’m killing him.”

Beast didn’t respond. His usual enthusiastic replies had been dwindling year after year. Same empty promise. Same chicken shit lies from Bill. He growled, slamming his elbow into the door so hard, it left a dent. Beast let out an annoyed beep of his horn and the dent popped out, the door good as new.

Bill winced, giving a sheepish shrug. “Sorry, bud. I started thinking again.” He patted the dashboard. “I’ll make it up to you. After all this, whitewall tires.”

And the driver’s side door popped open. Beast always was a vain creature, even in his present form.

Bill lowered the sunshade, gazing at the postcard pinned to it’s leather. There she was, his pin-up perfection; honey brown eyes, full red lips, and a smile that said “Hello, Sailor.” 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.  The sight of her eased his restlessness. For decades she had always soothed him and many a night, Bill had fantasized about burying his hands into those soft curls as he buried his shaft in between her legs. He constantly dreamt of what she would sound like, feel like, taste like. So many achingly lonely nights cured by that revere. Too bad she was made of cardboard. Gently, Bill pressed the tips of his fingers to his lips, then against the pinup’s cheek.

Business, now. Fantasies, later.

He smoothed his hair away from his short horns, gathering it to braid but his fingers froze, the coarse mane still woven between them as acid crawled up the length of his throat. Dammit, he almost fell into his old habits again.

No braids. You didn’t earn those battles.

He hadn’t related to his troll blood in centuries and if he had his druthers, he’d rather pass as a human to everyone in the Wyrd. Bill opted to tie his hair in a simple cue at the base of his neck, glancing down to the human tones of his arms. No green. Good. That green made him sick to his stomach. Now a days he only opted for his true form when he slept.

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

Bill peered through the front door’s crescent cut windows After finding them too ornate to see through, he rapped his knuckles against the carved teak and waited.

And waited.

…and waited.

Another knock brought nothing. Bill was about to flip the house the bird and storm off when a tall, well-groomed male answered the door, his shoulders as broad as a barn’s. The male’s dark hair was slicked back neatly and when he offered a hand to shake, his fingernails were well manicured.

Perfect crease in his pants?

Check.

Shined shoes?

Check.

Teeth that were so white they practically sparkled?

Double check.

The thick scruff on his jaw hid 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 amount of disgust on the word troll.

Bill bristled. That tone but it still put his teeth on edge even after centuries of hearing it. Regardless, he 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 wondering why Damien hadn’t answered the damn door himself but after this introduction, he was lucky anyone had answered at all. He pushed his ire away, thinking about the money.

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

“Precisely how I want it,” Sebastian said. “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 with confidence. With all the tension roaring through his veins, the violent release would be welcomed. “Invite me in, and we’ll get this started,” he 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 irritation throbbing in his temples. He clenched his fists chanting, think about the money. Just about the money,  in his mind and gestured to the door again, trying not to glare at the prick.

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

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

“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 probably worth more than all the bounties Bill had collected in his life, everything placed to overwhelm visitors with intimidating wealth. The opulence scratched at him, and he rolled his eyes.

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

“Yup,” Bill replied, waiting for the typical exchange to come and trying not to groan.

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

“I prefer Bill.”

Sebastian’s Gods’ damned laugh almost made Bill smash the nearest expensive nick-nack over his head. He opened his mouth to retort when the stab of a piercing stare hit between his shoulder blades. He turned, towards a male hunched on a red velvet sofa, face half shadowed by a wave of golden hair curling over his forehead. The wolf raked his mane back, revealing a yellowing bruise around his left eye and an expression that screamed, help me.

Bill gawked at the wounded male, sick churning hard inside his gut.  He knew that expression well, wore it too many times to count during his childhood. Just one look at that black eye sent his mind spiraling; the brutal fists, the slash of a whip on his back, the screams. His screams. His fingers went numb, lungs tightening, throat closing. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move.

You’re mine forever, strákurinn minn.

Sebastian flicked his wrist to 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 down the hall. Bill’s breath returned, the cry of relief locked behind his lips. Was everything tonight going to remind him of Haakon? His thoughts returned to his pin-up girl, calming his nerves.

Money. Think about the money. Just the money.

Sebastian led him down a twisting hall then pushed open a door to an old fashioned study, giving it a knock on the way in. “Damien,” he called.

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. She straightened, then gave a sweet, seductive grin to Sebastian, tucking her hands behind her back. Bill caught the flash of Sebastian’s eyes and the curl of his lip before held his arms open.

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

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. He cleared his throat, which did absolutely nothing, then looked to the figure at the desk, almost losing his dinner at the site.

The male was hideous; flesh 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 completely gone, replaced with leathery scarlet. 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 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.

Think about the fucking money, Bill!

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. Bill wanted to tell them to get lost but that wouldn’t earn him any bonuses. He shook Damien’s hand, remaining quiet. Quiet was good. Quiet kept him neutral. Neutral paid him.

Damien limped out from behind his desk.  Every inch of him was pure muscle like his brother but his gate 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.”

The laugh exploded from Bill before he even knew it was coming. So much for remaining neutral. “A phoenix?” he shook his head. “This is a joke, right?”

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

Here came the laughter again. 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.  Money, Bill! Money! Stop laughing!

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

“No. I just think its a waste of your cash,” BIll said. “Phoenix’s 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 amusement died, every muscle coiling as his hand hovered over his machete.  “Do I look like the creation of a creature of beauty?! 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! I want her!”

Bill swallowed as the tantrum raged on, that nasty feeling returning with a vengeance, almost blindsiding him. 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,” Damien growled, nodding as a haze of peace shrouded  him. “Thank you, Belinda. Thank you.”

Mind magic.

The Missus was a mage.

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.”

Damien turned back to Bill, his emotions barely in check. With a reluctant sigh, he pulled a large glimmering plume from his pocket, turning it between his fingers this way and that. Bill couldn’t hold in his gasp. It shone like live fire, flashes of red, orange, and gold making him ache at its beauty. Suddenly Bill needed to feel its softness and take in its scent. Damien glazed over at his prize, saliva spilling down his chin. Bill reached for it but he jerked it away, his fangs growing sharp.

“Mine,” he hissed.

Bill grabbed the handle of his machete, ready to hack Damien’s hand off to get to that feather.

“Damien,” Sebatian warned. “Hand it over.”

Damien scowled at his brother then ran the feather under his nose, taking a long lecherous sniff before obeying. The display made Bill stomach curdle. He he took the feather letting the down tickle his palm as he tucked it into his pocket, safely away from the wolf’s clutches.

“It’s the last one I was able to salvage from her,” 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 lip 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 shot him down. Sebastian smiled coldly, stepping in front of Bill. “There’s no need to be confrontational, troll.”

Bill stood firm, hands balled into fists. “Your brother is the confrontational one. I have no problems walking out that door if he keeps it up.” 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 at her, swallowing down the vitriol he longed to spew. Usually, he didn’t bait his clients but something about this entire scenario was an itch that was growing painful and raw. Especially Damien. The sudden urge to swipe his claws across his ugly face was growing irresistible.

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 corrupt side of Damien’s face as his eyes glassed over. “I need her alive and unharmed. Touchable.”

Bill rubbed a hand across his knotting belly. Something in his tone set his teeth on edge and made the hair on the back of his neck rise. “What will you do with her?” he heard himself ask, surprised by his own question.

“None, of your business,” Damien replied.

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

“And a bonus 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. Then freedom. Freedom for him and Beast.

Damien stalked around the desk, plucking a large envelope from the tattered blotter. “I have photos, details, and last locations.” Bill snagged the envelope, tucking it under an arm before turning back to Damien’s scrutinizing glare. Oh yeah, he wanted to punch him, all right. “I heard that you make a vow on each bounty you take.” Damien, fixed his one good eye on him. A sloppy breath oozing through his teeth.

“That’s right,” Bill replied.

“That’s either very bold, or very foolish.” Damien gave a groan of a 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?” Bill lifted his chin, ready for another onslaught.

“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. The three carried on as if he was never there. Eventually, Sebastian noticed Bill still hovering and shooed him to the door. Bill snorted, and showed himself out.

Soon, he was sitting inside Beast, manilla envelope in his hands, the dread still churning. He shoved it  deep into his gut, concentrating on the task before him. “Three 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 in a giddy fashion, 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, smoky 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 and we’ll be right on her doorstep. ”

Easy money. With his stone and that feather, he could find her in a blink. Bill wouldn’t even have to look through the envelope Damien handed him, but curiosity nagged his brain and he tore the envelope open, rummaging through the paperwork.

Her name was Kindle. Bill snickered. How appropriate. She was in her fifth century which wasn’t very old for a phoenix. The few that did exist were almost into their first millennium which meant Kindle was young and probably stupid. A good start for him.

Bill took in everything about her; height, weight, eye color, and that she had been alluding Damien for thirty years. None of the information was really useful to him, but he read on, intrigued, shuffling through the papers faster than his eyes could absorb. His eyes fell on a faded Polaroid photo, paper clipped to a few scraps. Bill plucked it free, squinting in the dark at the faint outline of a petite female. Bingo.

“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. And she was covered head to toe in freckles. 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. Bill lowered the sunshade, hand shaking as he raised the photo beside his postcard. “No fucking way,” he whispered.

Her hair.

Her eyes.

That same coy smile.

No. There was no way the two could be the same. But there it was.

Kindle, was 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, deciding 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. Kindle groaned and threw the straw one on once again. Nope. She still looked like herself.  A face like hers was hard to hide and hair dye didn’t take well to her fire. She never got the hang of disguises which is why she spent most of her time hiding in her abode, where ever it was at the time.

“Oh well,” she sighed. “It’s not your fault that you’re devastatingly attractive.”

Kindle giggled before the flimsy cheer crumbled to ash. Leaving her squalid sanctuary was a bad idea. Her apartment was safety and out there? Well, God only knew what would find her out there. Nevertheless, she fought through the grief, grinding her teeth the entire time.

“Nope! It’s your birthday and you need the sunshine! And birthdays are great! Today will be great!” she said. “And you look great! Don’t deny the world of that, Kindle!”

After another round of switching chapeaus, the black felt hat was tossed away like a Frisbee, deeming the other less eye-catching. She tilted the wide brim at a jaunty angle, turning it this way and that. It didn’t impress her.  Kindle groaned.

It’s only a matter of time before he finds you, Kindle.

That inner voice whispered its venom in a slow rhythm making he shudder. Kindle stared at her reflection before falling into a sit on the side of the bathtub.

You run away from everything.

She pressed her hands over her ears to block it out, but it only grew louder.

You’re nothing compared to Piper and Reina. They’re fierce. You’re pathetic.

Kindle shoved her hands harder as if that would stop her thoughts from steamrolling over her. “Stop it, Kindle. Stop it, now.”

This is what you deserve for burning him. If only you were brave enough to finish the job. He’ll find you eventually. Find you and make you wish you could die.

“Shut up, brain!” Kindle swallowed her tears, knowing it would smear her perfectly applied eyeliner is she stared another sob fest. Yet it was loud and clear, crushing her into the bathroom tiles. “You’re one of the good guys. And the good guys win.”

Pretending this was all an old movie helped the shame. In the movies, things were as clear as black and white, not all these dumb shades of gray. Today it only made her feel weak.

Way to cope with reality, Kindle.

She stomped her foot, and shook her head. “No! It’s your birthday! No self loathing moping today, dang it!” She turned back to her reflection to paint on a fresh coat of her favorite lipstick.  “You can do this. A few hours outside and you’ll feel like your old self.”

Kindle had hardly left her sad little place since those slimy goblins had chased her to Nevada. She had laid low for an entire year, living on take-out, home deliveries, and watching her cruddy little television that only got three channels.  Las Vegas boulevard was only a few minutes away and she had ached to see it even before this entire mess, the distant flickering lights, calling to her. But she wasn’t a tourist. She was a prisoner. Still, there were only so many travel magazines she could subscribe to before she craved the real deal more than security. Today she had hit her limit.

“Thirty minutes tops. You’ll be fine,” she told herself. “Just don’t talk to anyone.” She winced. Telling herself to not be social was like telling a cat they weren’t allowed to chase a laser pointer.

Kindle strolled out of the bathroom, chin high despite the low spirits. She surveying her one-room shack; the leaky bean-bag chair and shabby mattress with thead bare blankets. She picked up a sad little cupcake that sat on a bland chest of drawers, a single candle shoved into it asqew. She took a bite, then spit it out into a napkin with a cough. The pink frosting had gone hard and the cake was dry. Ugh. Into the trash it went.  She blew a frustrated puff between her clenched lips with a hearty “thhppt!” and snatched her purse off her dresser, giving it a through 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!” Another deep breath puffed her chest. “But you can do this.”

Kindle went to turn off the T.V. but her fingers paused on the dial as she saw the static blurred image of Humphrey Bogart on the screen. She clutched her hands against her heart swooning as he shoved his hands into his trenchcoat. Casablanca. She loved everyone of Bogie’s films but this one was her favorite, every second of it committed to memory. Her lips involuntarily moved as he delivered his famous speech to Ingrid Bergman, whispering each word along with him. Oh, what she would have given to meet him when she had lived in Hollywood during its heyday. Alas, Piper, wanted to move someplace cooler and less crowded so she never got her chance. Sure, in real life, he probably wasn’t anything like his characters, but that’s who she was really in love with, his characters. After watching him walk off into the fog and the credits began to roll, she summoned the will power to turn off the television.

Stepping onto Las Vegas Boulevard was like Dorothy opening her grey front door to the explosive color of Munchkinland. Sparkling marquees, joyful chatter, and flashing bright lights. It was more than she even dreamed of. Kindle lips parted on a gasp as she tossed some cash at the cab driver, not noticing she threw it right in the poor guy’s face until he shouted, “Hey!”

She blushed then squeaked a “Sorry!” giving him a flirty wink. That usually softened most fellas from getting too sore. The driver gave her a dreamy smile, swiping away the bills that stuck to his sweaty forehead before peeling down the road. She buffed her fingers on her blouse.

“Works every time,” she said.

The sun poured its heat and Kindle soaked it up like a gleeful little girl would a chocolate milkshake. Her scarlet cha-cha heels clicked merrily as she strolled past towering, ostentatious hotels. She had been so worried she would stick out like a sore thumb, like she had in every other city. Not here. Her brassy, colorful curves just another part of the culture. She laughed, giddy about her camouflage.

“Where have you been all my life, you beautiful city?” she cried.

The romantic visage of the Bellagio Hotel came into sight and she let out a pleased squeak, clapping her hands at its dreamy arches silhouetted in the afternoon sun. She had to go inside finding it just too lovely to pass by.

The opulent lobby ceiling of glass flowers sparkled with rich reds, yellows, purples, and blues, casting colorful shadows on the floor. She beamed, giving them a nod as if to say, “Thanks for brightening my day.” 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 her hat low, her cat-eyed sunglasses still in place as she watched the hustle and bustle. Humans everywhere. Young ones, old ones, ones with body parts obviously not made of organic material.  She watched wide eyed, making up backstories for each one  when a greasy voice crooned, “Well helloooo, beautiful!”

Kindle jumped, daydreams shattering as hypervigilance kicked in. A human male sat on a gilded couch right behind her; skin leathery and orange and hair like an oil slick. He grinned, one gold tooth twinkling in the overhead light. She removed her sunglasses and flashed him a polite smile.

“Oh, hello,” she said.

And goodbye, she thought.

“You look lonely.” The human fingered the cheap gold chain around his neck, his stare filled with heat. Kindle’s gut clenched. She knew that lecherous look, had seen it thousands of times in her lifetime.

And the last time I saw it was on Damien’s face.

Ice filled her belly.

“I was just leaving,” Kindle said.

Before she stepped away, the man grabbed her hand and yanked her down onto the couch beside him. The trail of feathers on the back of Kindle’s neck stood straight.

Oh god! He’s touching me. He’s touching me!

“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. He gave her a wide capped-toothed grin, stale smell of cigarettes making her nose wrinkle. She wanted to run, wanted to scream.  So why wasn’t she doing either?

“I simply must be going,” Kindle insisted, trying untangle herself from his grip.

“A beauty like you has to be a dancer here, eh? I like dancers.” The grease ball chuckled. “There’s no hurry, honey. Settle down.”

“Oh well, I’m-”

“I insist.” He fingered the edge of her shorts, slipping his palm to her inner thigh as he leaned in and sniffed her hair. The scream in her throat stalled, crawling back into her chest.

“Mmmm. You smell smoky,” he whispered. “I bet you’re a fiery bitch when you fuck.”

You’re not even going to fight back, are you? That nasty voice whispered. Coward.

Fire tickled her fingertips as she contemplated burning the human’s touch away. No death, just a quick burst. Just enough to teach that fat head a lesson. Enough to show him who was boss. Then Damien’s horrible screams, entered her mind. The sharp tear of his fangs on her throat. The smell of his cooking flesh, popping like fat on a grill. With a sharp tug, Kindle pulled free, stumbling off the couch. The man rose, towering over her diminutive form with clenched fists, and a displeased sneer.

“What’s your problem?” he snapped.  He made another grab for her but she dodged, almost falling onto her backside.

Be fierce!

“I have to go!” Kindle shouted. The lobby feel silent and she looked around, red staining her cheeks. Well, that was kind of fierce. Well, no not really. She cleared her throat, half expecting to find a gaggle of sallow skinned goblins swarming over her after her outburst. But the humans dismissed her as just another crazy.

You can talk your way out of this. Charm and lies, Kindle. Piece of cake.

Kindle gathered a confidence she didn’t feel and tossed her hair over her shoulder, taking on a flirty stance. Her only battle armor. Her fingers brushed across her collarbone and the human’s gaze fell upon her freckled cleavage. He ran his tongue across his lower lip. Kindle tried not to gag.

“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 nibbled on the end of her sunglasses, giving him a wink. “Cozy.”

Usually, a cock of her hip made males run rampant to do her bidding. This one only grabbed her upper arm, leaning in until his nose touched hers. “I’m not letting you out of my site gorgeous. Not for even a second.”

Kindle’s gut clenched. Somehow the human fought through the breast hypnosis to stay on target. If she swore, it would have been epic.

He burried his face against her neck, his hot, stinking breath making her shudder. “I’m taking you back to my room instead.”

Her mind raced, slamming through every scenario she could think up until landing on, “You cant’! I’m meeting someone!”

The human smirked. “Who?” He snickered, grin filled with disgusting promises. “The only one you need is me, honey.”

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 did to her. It was starting all over again and it was her fault for not fighting like a true creature of the Wyrd.

You stupid coward, her inner voice scolded.

A commotion of frightened murmurs flooded the lobby. Tourists parted like the red sea, leaping out of the way.  Kindle’s sunglasses fell right out of her hand as the answer to her prayers strode through the front doors, his body chiseled like rock, his olive toned skin marked over with scars. Norse knotwork tattooed around his bicep but it wasn’t just decorative, they were runes, woven together in some sort of spell. Holy cow, he was a Wyrdling! Then Kindle saw the two dark points poking up from under his thick black hair.  She let out a giggle of delight.

Big boy was a troll?

What luck! The one thing trolls loved were damsels in distress. Well, she was a damsel, and boy was that human distressing.

Big boy, you are my ticket out of here!

“Him,” Kindle jerked her head towards the troll. “He’s who I’m meeting.”  She flung herself free, waving her hands, calling, “Yoo-hoo! Honey! Here I am!”

The troll spun towards her call, fists clenched and teeth bared. His thick eyebrow arched and he cocked his head to the side, grunting a satisfied, “Huh” as Kindle skipped across the lobby.

 With nimble fingers, Kindle popped the second button on her gingham blouse, exposing the satin yellow bow of her bra before flying into action, making her sure her breasts bounced with every step.

“This is crazy, this is crazy, this is so crazy!” She muttered and 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 whisper, “Just bear with me a moment, will you, handsome?” in his ear.

I am completely insane!

The troll answered another surprised, “Huh.”

Kindle glanced over her shoulder. The human fumed, but made no attempt to challenge her mock boyfriend. He was smarter than she thought. The troll didn’t move, too stunned to do anything more than stare. His thumbs brushed across her lower back and she blinked, surprised that she wasn’t overwhelmed with revulsion. If any other stranger had touched her like that, she’d run screaming, but his heavy grip was… comforting.  The first comfort she felt in decades.

Goose flesh rose over her arms as she plopped back to her feet, falling into deep emerald eyes. They were soft, young, completely out of place on that rough face and oddly perfect. A boyish element to his otherwise frightening visage. Despite that she almost had her blouse unbuttoned to her navel, he didn’t leer. Instead he studied her, his gaze almost awe-struck. It had been ages since someone looked at Kindle like that and God, how she missed it. She saddled up beside him, tucking her arm into the crook of his elbow.

“Here he is! My boyfriend!” she called. “My big, violent, boyfriend!”

The human started forward then, after a quick glance to the baffled troll on her arm, 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. Kindle fluffed her hair, giving his arm an appreciative squeeze, then waved to the human with a smug smile. “Ta-ta!” she called, dragging her new friend away.  As soon as the human was out of spitting distance, she deflated. “Yeesh. That was unpleasant.”

“What was that all about?” the troll asked.

Kindle sighed, trying to dismiss that she was dragging a male twice her size towards the exit at top speed. “Nothing. Just a minor agitation.”

“A minor agitation?”

She blushed and patting her victory rolls and swallowing hard. “Well, maybe more of a major agitation. But still, no biggie.”

He smirked. “Huh.”

Apparently that was the word of the day.

The revolving doors were so close and escape was just a breath away but she didn’t want to let go of her new friend. At least, not yet. His masculine scent wrapped around her; rain and stone, fresh and musky. Her knees wobbled once again.  Maybe she’d drag him a block or two to keep the creepers away. Indulge in the glorious heat of his skin would be just a bonus.

“Thanks so much, honey,” she said, patting his hand. “You did me quite a favor.”

“I did you a favor?” The troll laughed.

Aw, he was flattered. Kindle stopped before the doors, giving his cheek a stroke. “You sure did.”

His heavy groan hardened her nipples, made that spark of lust that laid dormant for year burst to life. She longed to take him back to her apartment. Just one night of tangled, sweat soaked limbs, loud moans, and racing pulses. It had been so long since she had indulged in her favorite sin, so long since she had talked to anyone, touched anyone. This male was calling to her, sending warmth to the apex of her thighs and making want things she shouldn’t. Walking away from his orgasms was going to put a damper on her birthday. What a darn shame.

Instead of climbing him like a tree, she gave his cheek a peck. “If I could keep you, I would, big guy,” Kindle said, then clicked her tongue, tapping the tip of his nose. “Here’s looking at you kid.” She had always wanted to say that line to someone.

Kindle turned to walk away, only to jerk to a stop. He had her arm. Her eyes traveled right to his knee melting smirk, so arrogant and prideful. So swoon worthy. Kindle hadn’t spent much time with trolls but she was fast finding them to be her favorite.  Kindle wetted her lips, the dangerous rush of kissing a stranger making her forget all her troubles.

“Oh, so you want to hang on to me, eh, handsome?” She gave him a flirty grin.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. His deep voice shook her core, turning her to jelly.

He pulled her close. She’d bet dollars to donuts that he was a magnificent kisser. Her eyes closed, hands slipping up and over his shoulders, playing with the ends of his ponytail.

“Kindle, be a good girl and come with me quietly,” he murmured.

Kindle’s eyes flipped open. He knew her name. That only meant…

Oh, no. Oh no, no, no.

A bounty hunter.

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. Bill groaned, almost forgetting why the hell he was in Vegas in the first place. His pin-up girl was flesh and blood. Touchable. Kissable. His fantasy made flesh.

Gods, all those freckles. Never thought freckles could be so damn hot.

They covered her face, her arms, and the tops of her thighs. Bill wanted to count each one, then play a game of connect the dots with his tongue. He wanted her pert breasts pressed against his chest again and the weight of her arms around his shoulders. He needed to stare into those eyes laced with veins of honey gold and fire. He’d bet his soul that she was pure passion with everything; eating, laughing, living…

…Fucking.

Kindle’s whimper of distress sobered him from his lusts and he scrubbed his face with his free hand, growling at his lack of self control.

Put your dick back in your pants.

“So, you’re one of them?” Kindle’s hit her last word as if afraid to say bounty hunter out loud.

“Yeah,” Bill replied.

“And he sent you?”

“Yeah.”

“What a…” She bit her lower lip before finishing with,  “Jerk!”

Bill tightened his grip on her forearm, expecting her to bolt, or worse, do to him what she did to Damien. He readied a few defense spells, just in case. But she didn’t light up, only trembled, staring at him like a trapped animal.  Then out of the blue, she smiled.

“Troll, right?” Kindle asked.

The sudden mood swing gave Bill whiplash. “What?”

“You’re a troll, right? You’re big enough to be a werewolf or a dragon so I really can’t tell if you’re not green.” She rose up to her tiptoes, brushing the stray hairs off his forehead and he fought the shiver. Her fingers were like velvet and suddenly he wondered what they’d feel like wrapped around his cock.

Knock. It. Off. Bill.

So much for keeping his dick in his pants.

“Yes, I’m a troll,” Bill snarled. “Get moving.”

She didn’t obey, only traced the jagged ridge of his ear, smile swelling with mischief. He wanted to pull away but her magnetic touch drew him closer and he arched towards her hand

“Ah ha! There are those cute little horns!” she cheered.

Bill jerked away, every muscle ripcord tight. He patted his hair, finding his horns tucked away in his hair from human eyes, then shot her a deadly glare. Kindle only batted her eyes, rocking back and forth on her heels. The crease between his eyes grew as deep as his scowl as his tension headache sat on deck. But the seductive smell of amber wafted from her skin, making his headache fade and his shaft rock hard yet again.

Kindle’s voice was a breathy whisper as she reached for him. “I heard that a troll’s horns are an erogenous-”

“You heard wrong,” Bill snarled.

“You sure?” she asked.

“Pretty fucking sure.”

“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 the end against the top of her breasts. “…Big.”  She played with the open collar of her shirt, the yellow lace of her bra peeping out to say hello. Yellow. Just like her pin-up’s nighty. Bill looked towards the heavens for help. As expected, none came. He gave her arm a tug forcing himself back to business.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Kindle clasped her hands in front of her perfect bosom. “Oh say, we should go get some pizza! You want to get some pizza? I haven’t even had lunch yet and I’m starting to get peckish.”

“Are you for real?” he asked flatly.

“Why don’t you give me a pinch and find out?” She wiggled her bottom with a wink.

Bill continued to stare as if she sprouted five extra limbs. Either this female was utterly fearless, or completely bonkers. Perhaps both. Bill predicted both.  He stuffed a hand into the pocket of his cargo pants and fished out a pair of silver handcuffs; a magical item he had crafted after a crazy dryad got in the way of the werewolf he had hunted two years ago. After that fiasco, Bill needed a power neutralizing item for future troublemakers. Kindle was definitely a trouble maker.

Kindle’s smile dropped as he twirled the cuffs, tucking her hands behind her back. The sexy act vanished and the fear returned. “Oh! Hey now! Let’s not get dramatic in front of the humans!”

“You brought this on yourself,” Bill said.

Bill readied to spin her around and bind her, when that fuming human glared at him from across the lobby. He was still here? Great. Bill shook his head, gaze narrowing on the problem. The human  made wild hand gestures as if to say, “Back off, she’s mine!” or “Touchdown!” It was hard to tell his his furious gyrating. 

Your boyfriend looks cranky,” Bill said, trying to keep the contempt out of his voice.

After a quick glance over her shoulder, Kindle frowned, hugging herself with a shudder. “That is not my boyfriend.”

A long slumbering instinct roared to life, pounding against Bill’s chest like a jackhammer, his thoughts screaming, Threat!  Suddenly, he wanted to rip the man’s arms right out of their sockets. Bill bared his fangs, eyes turning black, one arm raised as if to say “come at me bro,” It only took a fake lunge and the human squealed, tripping over himself before pushing through the crowds and running for cover. Bill smirked, a pleased snort flaring his nostrils.

Kindle’s temping scarlet lips curled as she watched the male almost wet himself. “That was fantastic!”

Bill’s thirst for murder faded in the light of her radiant grin, then he blinked, cursing under his breath.  No, he didn’t frighten that human just to please her. Bill scared him off because he would only be a speed bump. That was all. Nothing else. And she didn’t need to start thinking he was on her side

“Move,” he said.

“So, no pizza?” Kindle asked.

Bill spoke as if reprimanding a child. “Listen, bird. I want this to be easy. And you want this to be easy too.”

“Do I?” She chuckled.

“You do,” Bill continued. “Now, we’re going to walk to my car and we’re leaving. We’ll have a pleasant drive to the Cole compound.”  He yanked her to him by the nape, making her squeak a sharp breath. “Or, I can haul you out of here cuffed and screaming. What will it be?”

Even her freckles went pale. After nibbling on her lower lip, she replied, “Easy it is.”

“Good girl,” Bill said.

And with that, they marched towards the parking lot elevators. Kindle’s mouth was pursed tight. thoughts churning behind those honey brown eyes. Thoughts on escape. Bill could sense it. Smell it. His grasp tightened on her neck and silk brushed his palm. Bill hmmed, then flicked his thumb to feel it again. Kindle let out a sudden throaty gasp, her eyes fluttering closed. She liked that? Bill bit the inside of his cheek.

“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.” She smiled. Gods above, what a smile. It was like staring into the damn sun. He looked away.

“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 abusive asshole.

“Bill the Skinner,” he added. He glanced down waiting for her to cringe. They always cringed.

She gave a shrug. “Well, that’s a colorful name.”

Well, so much for that. Damn her surprises.

“And you’re Kindle,” he said.

Kindle 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 laugh. 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 alone and in silence save for the mild version of Girl from Ipanema wafting from the speakers.

Bill rubbed his chin, contemplating the trail of feathers hidden under Kindle’s thick mane. Her tell. All full blood beasts in the Wyrd had at least one tell. Something that couldn’t be disguised by shifting alone, like Bill’s horns. His hands started to twitch, thinking on that path of soft warmth. Before he realized it, he had swept the hair off the back of her neck, eager for a glimpse.

“Hey! What gives?” Kindle squirmed but he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, his grip like steel, gathering her mane in his fist.

There it was, a shimmering line trailing down the back of her neck and under her collar, gold and scarlet, sparkling in the glaring elevator light. Pure fire. Brightness in an otherwise dim world.

“Nice little tell you got there,” he said.

“Thanks,” Kindle replied sharply.

Bill released her hair and ran a finger down the length, wondering how far it went. To her shoulders? To the delicious curve of her lower back?  A moan trickled from her trembling lips and Bill lit up like a bonfire. She pressed her backside against his hips, palms hot as a forge and almost sizzling his flesh as they curled around his arm. Bill’s breath grew short, his heart pounding.

So fucking hot.

With a sudden lurch, Kindle twisted away, pressing herself against the elevator as far from him as possible. She gaped at her palms wild eyed as they flashed bright then winked out with wisps of smoke.

“How would you like it if I grabbed you by the horns, huh?! You didn’t seem to like that idea earlier!” she snapped, shoving the offending appendages behind her back.  

Her fear tore through him, shredding his cool indifference to pieces. What the hell was he doing? 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.

“Won’t happen again,” Bill managed to say. He took step away for good measure.

Kindle gave him a long, tense, look. “…Good,” she said, and left it at that.

After a few steps, she patted her hair, lifting her head like a haughty queen. Suspicion welling inside Bill’s gut. Another act? More than likely. He’d have to watch this one close.

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 deciding this form of touch was acceptable.

“I suppose I can forgive you for wanting to see my feathers.” She tossed her hair back. “I mean, they are pretty fabulous.” She tugged on her blouse, the outline of her hardening nipples prominent under the green gingham. Bill’s ego did a double backflip  A smirk curled around his mouth as he jerked his chin towards her.

“You liked it,” he said smugly.

“What if I did?” she replied with a shrug.

Not the answer nor the reaction he was expecting. Great. Now his muscles were tense and his dick was hard. Freckles and confidence were quickly becoming his weakness. Bill hissed between his clenched teeth then gave her a good pull, her heels stumbling with a clack-clackity-clack-clack.

Beast sat in his parking space, probably asleep after their non-stop drive to Las Vegas. Bill smiled. Freedom. So close that it made him sweat and ache. His steps became wider, ready to sprint to the finishline when Kindle skidded to a halt. What the hell?

“Kindle…”Bill  warned.

Kindle’s gaze swept to Beast’s rear end, locking right on the trunk. Her chest stopped heaving. She was holding her breath.  Bill glanced between Beast and Kindle then groaned.

“What, now?” he asked.

“I…I just…Uh…” They were barely words, only mushy vowels. “I rather not.”

Bill almost laughed. “You don’t have a choice.” The words didn’t budge her. He narrowed his eyes. “You said you’d be good. Now, be good.”

Kindle’s assured demeanor melted away, her knuckles white around the strap of her leather bag.  “Promise me you won’t put me in the trunk?” she whispered.

The trunk? Where did she get that idea? In all the decades he hand hunted with Beast in this form, not one bounty ended up in the trunk. Bill pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head.

“You’ll be in the front with me,” he said then quickly added. “Unless you do something stupid.”

He wasn’t sure why he wanted to reassure her but there we went, acting soft.  Kindle’s rigid posture released, the deathgrip on her purse falling away. But she was still fixed on the trunk, eyes as big as dinner plates.

“What constitutes as stupid?” she asked.

“Escaping,” Bill replied.

Kindle nodded, shaking off her sudden terror. Her smile returned, soft and teasing, spreading warmth to Bill’s fingertips. “Seems fair, Billy Boy.”

Bill jabbed a finger at her. “Don’t call me Billy.”

“Why not? It’s cute.”

Bill glowered. “Do I look cute to you?”

“Maaaaaaybe?”

Dammit, she was waggling her eyebrows at him.

With a growl, he shoved her toward Beast. Her rump hitting the door and Beast’s horn flared, windshield wipers flicking frantically back and forth as he woke from a deep slumber. Kindle slapped her hands over her ears with a surprised squeal.

“Gods dammit Beast!” Bill shouted. “Shut the-“

Kindle took off. Bill grabbed for her but she slipped from his fingers, running faster in heels than most did in tennis shoes.

“Dammit!,” Bill shouted, dashing after her until he snared her. He pinned her to a concrete pillar leaning in hard, nostrils flaring as his eyes shifted to a furious black.

“I thought you were going to be good,” Bill growled.

“And I thought we were getting pizza,” Kindle replied. “But clearly neither of us are getting what we want.”

Bill shoved his bulk against her, their noses touching. Her smart ass expression lit his blood on fire. Enough was enough. He reached into his pocket fishing out his cuffs and snagged her wrist.

“I’ll be good!” she cried.

“Too late.”

“Aw come on, Billy Boy! Please don’t do this!”

“Give me one good reason not to.”

“I’m adorable?”

“I need a better reason.”

“I’m really adorable?”

Bill wrestled her to the pillar but Kindle slapped the cuffs to the ground. They landed on the blacktop with a metallic clink, sliding out of reach. Bill cursed, clutching her by the throat before she squirmed free.

“Be good!” he snarled, squeezing. It wasn’t enough to hurt her, but gave a good warning.

Kindle stilled, her eyes shimmering with fire. Their gazes locked and  Bill’s mind went blank, every inch taut, hard, and needing as she grew heavy lidded. She closed the gap between them with a scorching kiss. Bill, melted, his grip falling away.

She tasted like cinnamon, biting and hot but sweet. Addicting.  He didn’t expect her mouth to be so sublime but when Kindle’s teeth softly nipped his lower lip, Bill lost his mind. He crushed her against the pillar, hands running into her hair, pulling hard until she moaned. Heat rose between them, and the air grew heavy with the scent of amber and smoke as her kiss brushed his jaw.

The connection.

The desire.

It hooked into his gut, begging him to give in, to take her, claim her.  He never experienced anything like it with any other female.

Kindle’s palms scalded his chest like a brand, the scent of her arousal driving him to roll his hips against hers.  He tugged at the waistband of her shorts and Kindle nodded furiously. Fuck it all, he would bury himself inside her that very instant if she let him, tourists and humans be damned. Bill needed to hear her cry his name as she came. He needed release. He needed her.

Kindle sighed her mouth leaving his. Bill grunted, about to shove her back into their kiss when she whispered, “I’m so sorry about this, Bill.”

Roaring flames scorched Bill’s face. Feather’s beat against him. The sound of flapping wings was deafening as he swiped the air blindly through the black and yellow spots that swirled in his vision, her silky feathers slipping from his grasp. Silence. Seconds later, his vision returned and Bill was alone with only the warm taste of cinnamon on his lips, and a hard dick in his pants. He stared at the vanishing trail of sparks in the air, mouth hanging open.

“Shit.”

The stench of burning hair stung his nostrils and he touched his face. One of his eyebrows was half singed off.

“Shit!”

Bill’s roar echoed off the thick concrete, sending freshly arrived tourists scattering. How could he have been so stupid? It hadn’t been that long since he’d been with a female so how did Kindle scrambled is brain?   

“You could have done something!” Bill shouted at Beast.

Beast flashed his headlights and popped open his driver’s side door, falling guiltily silent. Clearly, he was just as shocked as Bill.

Bill sucked in a breath transforming his panic into a far more productive emotion, like anger. Anger was much easier to deal with. He searched the ground for any sign of Kindle; a hair, a feather, anything he could use to scry for her. If she left something behind, he’d have a fighting chance. No, freedom was too close and he had a vow to fulfill. If she thought he would give up so early in the game, the bird was dead wrong.

Orange flashed against his shirt making Bill pause mid scramble. Carefully, he plucked a bright piece of down free, mouth twitching before he let out a surprised laugh. It was just a tiny puff, but it was enough to scry her.

“The bird is molting,” he chuckled. “Thank the Gods for summer!”

 Bill dove inside the Mercury, popping the glove compartment and yanking out an oblong stone. It pulsed with light as Bill dropped the down onto it, . The down dissolved with a crackling and steam billowed around Bill’s head. Images and words swirled through the clouds in a puzzling map, one that Bill knew exactly how to read. She hadn’t gotten far.  A malicious grin curled his lips.

“Game on, bird,” he said. “Game, fucking, on.”

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