A Cursed Embrace Page 14

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“Of course not!”

“Well, you could have fooled us.” Shayna affectionately punched my shoulder. “Taran activated a silencing spell around your room so we could get some sleep.” She threw her arms in the air. “It was like you were watching porn—well, the good kind anyway. I swear, Ceel, all you needed was the boom-chooka-boom-boom sound track!”

I rammed a muffin in her mouth when I heard Aric coming down the stairs, knowing he heard her. Good Lord. I put sewing her lips shut on my to-do list. “Zip. It,” I hissed.

Shayna spit out a large piece of muffin in time for Aric to appear. “Hi, Aric,” she and Taran sang.

Aric blushed slightly but walked over to embrace me. He then led us to our large wooden table and pulled me onto his lap when he sat, no doubt so I could shield him from my sisters.

He cleared his throat. “Good morning, ladies.”

“We have breakfast for you guys,” Emme said quietly. She wouldn’t look at us when she brought over our plates. I guessed she feared we’d have sex on the table or something.

I dug into the food, feeling the heat creep into my cheeks. “Where are Koda and Liam?”

The sparkle vanished from Shayna’s grin. “Hunting. They left early this morning.”

My grip tightened around my fork. “Oh?”

Aric finished swallowing and wiped his mouth. “Paul picked up on a trail west of Truckee. They have to cover a thirty-mile radius. Koda and Liam were to relieve them at dawn. Gem and I are taking over at noon.”

“Can I go with you?”

Aric shook his head. “After what happened yesterday, I don’t think it’s a good idea, sweetness.”

I started to protest, but Shayna cut me off. “I was all set to go, too, Ceel. But Koda wouldn’t let me.” She shrugged. “We had our first fight about it.”

Aric leaned back in his chair, keeping his hand tight against my hip. “Shayna, you didn’t see the big guy’s reaction when he heard you scream. He totally lost it and I need his head in the game.” He smiled at her softly. “Try to understand. He doesn’t want to see the woman he loves get hurt.”

Tears welled in Shayna’s beautiful blue eyes. She played with the ties of her tunic. “Koda loves me?”

Aric pushed the eggs around on his plate. “Yeah. He does.”

Shayna rushed to sit on the chair next to him and scooted closer. “Did he tell you that?”

Aric shook his head. “I know him well enough to see it. Look, I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m out of line.”

Too bad for Shayna, Aric wasn’t Liam. He would have sung like a werecanary. She latched onto Aric’s wrist when he tried to take another bite. “Dude. You can’t tell a girl the wolf of her dreams loves her and then go back to eating waffles. If it’s true, why hasn’t Koda told me?”

Aric rested his arm against the table as he contemplated what to say. “Life hasn’t always been this good to Koda. It’s easier for him to be hard and silent than to express what he’s feeling on the inside. He’ll tell you soon enough.”

Shayna pursed her lips. “And if he doesn’t?”

Aric’s voice grew quiet. “Just give it time.”

The seriousness that replaced his pleasant demeanor signaled an abrupt end to their conversation. And as much as Shayna liked to tease and taunt, she never meant any harm. She released his wrist. “I’m sorry, Aric. I didn’t mean to put you in the middle.”

The corner of Aric’s mouth curved into a grin. “It’s okay. Just know he’s only watching out for you.”

His eyes cut to me then, but he didn’t say anything. I bent slightly to whisper in his ear, “Are you all right?”

Aric kissed my cheek. “Yeah. Just hungry, baby, and I have a long day ahead.”

Taran sat next to me. “Not to mention the poor bastard hardly got any shut-eye.”

I threw my fork down when Shayna burst into giggles. “Don’t make me kill you in front of Aric.”

Taran flashed me another siren grin, yet was kind enough to cut me some slack. Aric surprised me by chuckling. We finished our food and had two more helpings, but then it was time for him to go.

Aric held my hand as I followed him out to the Escalade. The sun brightened the late morning, bringing forth a clear and warm sixty-degree day. Birds sang, and the first orchestra of crickets played their sweet song. A lovely spring day, only to be polluted by a nasty scowl from Mrs. Mancuso. ’Cause God forbid she’d let me bask in my post-making-love-to-Aric glory.

She knelt, tending to the red tulips she’d planted between her creepy lawn gnomes. A wide-brim hat covered her tight curls, a yellow jacket fell over her paisley muumuu, and stiff middle fingers lurked beneath bright pink gardening gloves, waiting to strike. Mrs. Mancuso had accused my sisters and me of “besmirching” the neighborhood, but I think the gnomes and the lawn jockey with the lazy eye had done that long before we moved in.

Aric laughed when he saw her and led me to the driver’s side of his SUV. “Come on. We’ll use my car to hide behind so I can give you a proper good-bye.”

And he did, with a long, deep kiss. “Will you come back tonight?”

Aric kept his hands on my hips. “I want to. But depending on what happens, and what we find, I might not be able to.” He kissed me once more. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay. Be careful.”

I stepped onto the sidewalk and waited until Aric’s Escalade disappeared out of the development. I turned to go back in the house, just to come face-to-face with Mrs. Mancuso. For a woman in her eighties, she moved like a shadow. Normally humans gave me ample space, sensing my predator lurking beneath. Cataracts, apparently, were my tigress’s kryptonite. Since Mrs. Mancuso couldn’t see well, she probably couldn’t detect my formidable beast. I smiled as best I could and tried to be nice. “Good morning, Mrs. Mancuso. Your tulips look beautiful—”

“I saw what you did to that boy, Celia Wird.” She pointed her dirty little hand shovel in my face. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

My body heated, but no way was I going to let the old crow make me feel bad. This was love, damn it. I lifted my chin so we were at eye level. “Aric is my boyfriend now, Mrs. Mancuso. He was just kissing me good-bye.”

Her droopy lids narrowed over hazy blue eyes. “I meant on the porch. Last night.”

On the porch . . . ? I clasped my hands over my mouth, trying to muffle a scream. Mrs. Mancuso had seen me straddling Aric. Oh. God. Okay, maybe her vision wasn’t all that bad. I swallowed hard, gathering my courage. If I were Taran, I’d accuse her of being jealous, and insist she find some guy in a walker to hump and leave me the hell alone. But I wasn’t Taran. I was very much me. So I raced into the house, trying not to shriek.

So much for my formidable beast.

Taran glanced up from her tea. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing.”

“Harlot!” Mrs. Mancuso screamed from outside.

“For shit’s sake, lady, just die already!” Taran hollered back without missing a beat. She rolled her eyes and took a sip of her tea. “If only the good die young, that old fart is going to live forever.”

Emme poked her head out the window. “My goodness, I can’t believe arthritis hasn’t claimed her middle fingers by now.”

Taran huffed. “That’s because she gets so much damn use out of them.” She flipped Emme off a few times. “See, it keeps them flexible.”

Emme frowned. “That’s not a nice gesture, Taran.” She glanced out the window, her eyes widening. “And neither was that one.”

I poured myself some chai tea and took a seat next to Taran. Shayna and Emme grabbed two more mugs and followed suit. Shayna grinned. “Celia has a boyfriend,” she sang.

I held the mug tightly in my hands, wishing so much hostility didn’t surround my new relationship with Aric. “Aric is going against his pack by being with me.”

The good humor my sisters demonstrated at seeing Aric with me faded quickly as reality sank in. Romeo and Juliet had it rough. But Romeo didn’t face the wrath of fangs, fur, and magic.

Shayna draped her arm around my shoulder and gave me a one-arm hug. “Koda told me. He also said Aric has no intention of turning his back on you.”

“Did he mention what could happen to Aric for disobeying his Elders?”

Shayna turned her head. “Not exactly.”

I frowned. “What did he say?” Shayna slipped her arm off me but didn’t answer. “Shayna, please tell me.”

Shayna regarded me closely, appearing torn. “Being with a non-pure, especially one who’s not even were, sort of soils his reputation.”

My insides twisted. “I’m soiling Aric’s reputation?”

Shayna reached for me. “Ceel, this is not your fault. Aric’s pack doesn’t know or understand what we are, and I think it scares them. Koda, Liam, Gemini—it’s different for them. They’re not of pure blood; they don’t have to follow the same rules.”

I gawked at Shayna, not knowing what to say. Aric openly defied his Elders by being with me. That was bad enough. But to know his status had plummeted because of me broke my heart. I buried my face in my hands, hating my “weirdness” more than ever. “I can’t stand anyone looking down on him. And I can’t stand being the cause.”

Shayna’s thin arms embraced me, the extent of her concern showing through the way she clutched me. “Ceel . . . you’ve waited so long for someone like Aric. Don’t let those haters take that away from you. Just be with each other, enjoy each other. The other stuff, it’s just not worth it.”

Emme’s soft hand stroked my hair. “They just don’t know you, sweetie. I’m sure with time they’ll see how wonderful you are and accept you completely.”

Emme’s head consisted of cotton candy houses and kittens wearing pajamas.

Taran slammed her palm on the table. “You know what? Screw. Them. If Aric doesn’t give a shit what his Elders say, then damn it, neither should you.”

I didn’t agree. Aric’s anger at Anara demonstrated he very much cared. While he didn’t hold Anara in the same regard he held Martin, Anara’s remarks had affected him. So had Martin’s insistence that he break all contact with me. Except instead of listening to his Elders’ commands, Aric had chosen to spend the night with me. In words, and the way his body had moved against mine, Aric had pledged his commitment to me. I thought of Aric’s touch, his grin, and how he had so easily found his way into my heart, despite the walls my beast had secured to protect us. If Aric faced danger at the hands of his pack, he would do so with me at his side. I loved him. I did. And I’d be a fool to let him go.

The ceramic yellow mug cooled in my hands before I spoke again. “You’re right. If Aric wants to be with me, I’m not going to stop him.”

“That’s our girl!” Shayna lifted her tea. “To Celia, and her hottie big, bad wolf.”

Taran winked my way. “It’s been a long time coming, Ceel.”

Emme hit her cup against mine. “And to good times ahead.”

I hadn’t quite taken a sip of my tea when Shayna’s cell phone rang. She grinned when she saw who called. “Hi, puppy,” she answered cheerfully.

Koda’s voice lacked the same enthusiasm. “We located the couple.”

Shayna’s eyes swept to me, knowing I could hear. “Are they all right?”

“No. We found them in pieces.”

CHAPTER 11

Pitbull’s music usually made me want to dance. Not tonight. I barely registered the beat, despite how the heavy bass thrummed hard enough to shake my seat. My eyes wandered toward the front doors of the club, searching for any signs of Aric.

Gemini’s calm voice drew me back to our booth. “Don’t worry, Celia. He’ll be here soon.” Gem sat next to Taran, close, but not quite touching. An amazing feat on his part considering the tiny red dress she’d squeezed her perfect curves into.

Koda and Shayna had taken advantage of the open area on the dance floor. It was still early in the night. The club hoppers had just slowly begun to trickle in. Yet the anticipation of Aric’s arrival slowed the minutes, slowed the seconds. He’d promised to show tonight, just like he had every night for the past several days. But every night I’d arrive home from the hospital expecting him to be there, only to be disappointed.

“I’m sorry, sweetness,” he’d called last night to say. “Every time I try to leave, we get a new lead I have to act on.”

“It’s all right,” I answered. But each day that passed made me think things were definitely not all right. It had begun with that mutilated couple. Slowly, more and more bodies of men were being unearthed from desolate locations in both California and Nevada. The packs from each respective state had banded together. Giving Aric’s prestige, he led or organized the majority of the hunts. Yet every decaying corpse they found had perished over a period of weeks. No fresh leads. No survivors. Nothing to explain what was happening.

My eyes scanned the area, taking in a group of males ogling three young women at the bar while their shy, awkward friend focused on her drink as if it somehow had the power to make her prettier, wittier, or maybe just a little more desirable. Before we met the wolves, I was frequently the odd gal out on the town—ignored by the hunky guys drooling over my sisters and left to chat with the designated driver about his ongoing bout with acne, if he bothered to speak to me at all. I knew how the young lady felt. It was all I could do not to collectively slap the little punks upside their overly gelled heads. She probably had a lot to offer, if they’d just give her a chance to see the real her.

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