Sealed with a Curse Page 4

“Oh, Celia, please. Let’s just leave,” Emme begged in a frantic whisper. “It’s almost their lunchtime, for goodness’ sake.”

I allowed them to escort me out of the courtroom while keeping my eyes on Taran. She runway-strutted the entire length of the aisle. Before making her grand exit, she threw one last comment. “By the way, Sir Aleksandr, your vamp sucked in bed.”

I continued to watch Taran until she safely returned to my side. But unlike most males who met Taran, Misha wasn’t captivated by her. No. His hungry gaze fixed on me.

CHAPTER 3

I thought of Misha as I jogged my tenth and final mile alongside Lake Tahoe’s shore. Fangs and master vampire status aside, he was a beautiful man. A beautiful man who should have tempted me as easily as a fish to a line. And yet there was no temptation. Strange, though, to have someone so attractive see me with desire. Most men ignored me to gawk at my pretty sisters. On the rare occasion a potential suitor did glance my way, my predator side unleashed and intimidated the crap out of him. But what did I expect? My inner beast remained my powerful and loyal guardian, sharing my heart and spirit. She made us tough, strong, and a little scary…she also made us lonely.

I was only nine when our parents died. As mere humans, they hadn’t stood a chance against the gun-wielding burglars who broke into our home. I took on the parental role, willingly if not fiercely. Someone had to step up. Someone had to keep us safe. But as much as I tried, as hard as I fought, sometimes it wasn’t enough. Even a tigress could become prey, especially in a foster system full of predators.

Years of fear and betrayal made it difficult for us to trust anyone. We didn’t really have friends, except for Bren, the only were we knew and our Wiki into the supernatural world, and Danny, my buddy from college. It was hard to let others in. Especially for me. In many ways, I remained that young girl determined to keep herself and her little sisters safe.

I increased my speed, gliding along the cold, moist sand and trying not to let the pain from my past and the solitude of my present consume me. It was better for men to fear me, I reminded myself. If they feared me, they couldn’t hurt me. Again.

Go to your happy place, Celia. Go to your happy place.

That was easy, considering where I ran. A cool April breeze swept along the lake, rippling light waves to splash along the large boulders and bringing a fresh whiff of Tahoe’s magic to my nose. My inner tigress purred. God, I loved it here. It was strange to think of a lake as a friend, but it was. Tahoe made me feel happy and welcomed—a rare feat, considering the crap we’d been dealt….

I scented the werewolves before they appeared around the bend. They ran with the natural grace of their wilder sides and jumped easily over the small chunks of snow that remained along the beach. The breeze blew against me, so they couldn’t track my scent, but they would notice me soon enough.

The leader ran in front and six pairs followed closely, all in human form. When we first moved to Tahoe, I didn’t think there were but a handful of weres in the whole area. Now I scented them in the woods where I frequently hiked and along the walkways of the quaint shops near our house.

I guessed they needed to keep up with the rising vamp population.

Without thinking, I focused on the leader. He smelled like all wolves: of earth and a touch of fire. But like all beings, he had an extra something special to mark his scent unique. His aroma was that of water crashing over stones, clean, hard, strong. And while his redolence sent a wave of goose bumps cascading up my arms, it was his physique that stole my breath. He wore a black, long-sleeved University of Colorado T-shirt and black running shorts that inched up his powerful legs as he effortlessly raced along the sand. My gaze traveled from those rugged legs to his muscular body. He was well over six feet tall and, boy, was he cute. His chiseled cheekbones set off his strong jaw, darkened by a five-o’clock shadow. His nose was sharp, yet not so big that it didn’t fit his face. Thick, straight dark hair hung slightly over his eyes. And damn, those eyes, they were light brown and absolutely mesmerizing. I caught myself staring and our gazes locked.

Bren once warned me never to look a were in the eyes. “We’re temperamental a**holes, Celia,” he’d said. “It doesn’t take much to challenge my kind.”

It was stupid, but I refused to avert my gaze, and so did he. To make matters worse, I gave him a small, shy smile, completely out of character for me. His dark eyebrows furrowed; he was probably trying to figure out what I was doing. I was, too, for that matter.

We stared at each other as we drew closer. It wasn’t until I knew he got a hint of my scent that his expression changed. He stopped and turned as I passed by. The others ceased to run as well.

“Did I tell you to stop running?” he half growled, half shouted at them. His voice echoed in a deep timbre behind me, above another splash of waves. I liked the way it resonated and, for some strange reason, wanted to remember it. I doubted I would, but that face…I wouldn’t forget that face.

The other wolves quickly resumed their pace. I peeked over my shoulder as I continued to run, the wind sweeping my long hair like a dark sail behind me. The leader stood rooted to the same spot while the others sped away. He tilted his head and continued to gaze at me, his expression a mixture of confusion and intensity. He jerked toward me suddenly, only to abruptly stop. My smile widened. I stared at him a second longer before finally continuing around the bend.

The wolf’s steamy presence gave me a new burst of energy. I ran a little faster, with a quick bounce to my steps, leaping over the large boulders that cascaded along the small incline to the road. I spotted the shortcut through the woods that led into my neighborhood. I paused briefly, allowing the ears of my beast to search for any subtle sounds of animals scurrying. The last thing I needed was to accidentally brush against some woodland creature. Another Celia-ism I failed to share in court was my ability to change into other creatures—although never on purpose. If an animal came in contact with me, and I couldn’t block its spirit, a bit of its essence transferred into me. One violent seizure and some drooling later, I’d emerge as that critter. The problem was, I couldn’t immediately change back—especially if stressed. I accidently stepped on a skunk once. The same week I was awaiting the results of my nursing boards. Needless to say, my sisters spent a week shoving lettuce down my throat and praying I wouldn’t lift my tail.

My hearing picked up a flock of quails and a few chipmunks. They scampered away when they felt the presence of my beast. I relaxed slightly and hurried along. The tall, thick pines darkened the path, no matter the time of day. Only small snippets of sunlight trickled through, dancing along the trunks and forest floor, highlighting the fallen needles and mounds of frozen snow. It was always a few degrees colder than the beach. I didn’t mind. My inner furry beast kept my metabolism high and my body warm, and this forest satisfied my animal side’s desire to roam.

I inhaled deeply to absorb the freshness, only to stop when I locked on a foreign scent.

Something lurked in the trees. And it didn’t belong.

I hummed to quiet the growl that threatened to escape, and casually ambled along until my nose fixed upon my prey’s location. The moment I caught it, I swept up a stone and launched it into the large white fir to my left.

“Ow!”

I charged the were. He crash-landed with a hard thump into a dormant rhododendron bush. He surprised me by not poising to attack. Instead, he sat up and rubbed his head…rather pathetically.

He glanced at the blood on his hand, then back at me. “What the f**k? I was only trying to get a look at you.”

“What?”

He stood, wincing and wobbling as his crushed skull snapped back into place. Judging by his feline scent, he was either a werebobcat or a werecougar. Since he wasn’t more challenging, I went with werebobcat. “You’re one of those chicks from vamp court, aren’t ya?”

“Excuse me?”

He frowned. “I said—”

“I know what you said, moron! What I want to know is why you’re here?”

“To look at you,” he repeated once more. “You know. ’Cause I heard you’re kind of freaky and—”

Werebob’s catlike screeches persisted as I resumed my pace toward our neighborhood. Perhaps my knee to his nuts would teach him to watch who he called a freak.

Loser.

The trees parted just a few yards away, revealing the house closest to the path. Unlike some of the huge developments here in Dollar Point, our division was basically a wide cul-de-sac with eight beautifully crafted and large custom Colonials. We didn’t have access to a pool or tennis courts like other communities, but we were set away from the main road and had a great view of the lake. Our yard was small, but skillfully landscaped and backed into a greenbelt. If it weren’t for our grouchy neighbor, Mrs. Mancuso, it would have been our own little piece of heaven.

Jesus had the Virgin Mary. If the devil had a mommy, it would have been Mrs. Mancuso.

I jogged to the end of the path and onto the sidewalk, stopping when I reached our mailbox. As I stretched my muscles, a sleek ivory limo rolled to a halt in front of our house. The driver stepped out and opened the back door. The vampire with the bow tie I recognized from court emerged. Most vampires paraded around like the rock stars of the supernatural world they believed themselves to be. Not this little guy. His crew-cut blond hair suggested military. His neat brown suit and red bow tie suggested 1950s college professor. He glanced around anxiously, his dark eyes widening when he saw me approach.

He adjusted his jacket before smiling politely. “Hello, Celia. Forgive me for arriving unannounced—”

“Who are you and what are you doing here?”

My bluntness made his jaw slack, but his polite smile quickly returned. “I am Petro.”

His Russian accent was subtle, and his voice not nearly as strong as Misha’s. He also lacked the typical vampire swagger. If it weren’t for the alluring scent of sex and chocolate vamps carried, I wouldn’t have been sure he was vampire. I blinked, waiting for more.

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