Lilac and Lace Boutique on Iberville
The French Quarter
Stunned, Bride McTierney stared at the letter in her hand and blinked. She blinked again.
It couldn’t really say what she thought it said.
Was it a joke?
But as she read it again for the fourth time, she knew it wasn’t. The rotten, cowardly SOB had actually broken up with her via her own Fed Ex account.
Sorry Bride, but I need a woman more in keeping with my celebrity image. I’m going places and I need the kind of woman at my side who will help me, not hinder me. I’ll have your things delivered to your building. Here’s some money for a hotel room tonight in case you don’t have any vacant rooms.
“You sorry, sycophantic, scum-sucking dog,” she snarled as she read it again and pain engulfed her so profoundly that it was all she could do not to burst into tears. Her boyfriend of five years was breaking up with her… through a letter that he’d charged to her business account?
“Damn you to hell, you filthy snake!” she snarled.
Normally Bride would sooner cut her own head off than cuss, but this…this warranted serious language.
And an ax to her ex-boyfriend’s head.
She fought the urge to scream. Or better yet the need she felt to get into her SUV, go over to his television station and pound him into itty bitty bloody pieces.
A tear fled down her cheek. Bride wiped it away and sniffed. She wouldn’t cry over this. He so wasn’t worth it.
Really, he wasn’t, and deep inside she really wasn’t surprised. For the last six months, she’d known this was coming. Had felt it every time Taylor put her on another diet or signed her up for another exercise program.
Not to mention the important dinner party two weeks ago at the Aquarium where he had told her that he thought it best he go alone.
Still it hurt. Still she ached. How could he do such a thing?
Like this! she thought angrily as she waved the letter around like a lunatic in the middle of her store.
But then she knew. Taylor had never really been happy with her. The only reason he had ever gone out with her to begin with was because her cousin was a manager at the local television station Taylor worked for. He’d wanted a job there and like a fool she had helped him to get it.
Now that he was safely ensconced in his position and his ratings were at the top, he pulled this stunt.
Fine. She didn’t need him anyway.
She was better off without him.
And all the arguments in the world didn’t ease the bitter, awful pain in her chest that wanted her to curl up into a ball and cry until she was spent.
“I won’t do it,” she said, wiping away another tear. “I won’t give him the satisfaction of crying.”
Throwing the letter away, she seized her vacuum cleaner with a vengeance. Her little boutique needed cleaning.
You just vacummed.
She could just vacuum again until the damned carpet was threadbare.
Vane Kattalakis felt like shit. He’d just left Grace Alexander’s office where the good (and he used the word with full rancor) therapist had told him there was nothing in the world that could heal his brother until his brother was willing to heal.
It wasn’t what he needed to hear. Psycho-babble was for humans, it wasn’t for wolves who needed to get their stupid asses out of Dodge before they lost them.
No matter what the Peltier bears told him, he knew the truth. Both he and Fang were living under a death sentence and there was no place safe for them. They had to get mobile before their pack mates realized they were still alive.
The minute they did, a team of assassins would be sent for them. Vane could take them on, but not if he had to drag a hundred and twenty pound comatose wolf behind him.
He needed Fang awake and alert. Most of all, he needed his brother willing to fight again.
But nothing seemed to reach Fang. Nothing.
“I miss you, Fang,” he whispered under his breath as his throat tightened with grief. It was so hard to make it alone in the world. To have no one to talk to. No one to trust.
He wanted his brother and sister back so badly that he would gladly sell his soul for it.
Sighing, he tucked his hands in his pockets and turned onto Iberville as he walked through the French Quarter.
He wasn’t even sure why he cared anymore anyway. He might as well let the others have him. What difference did it make?
But then Vane had spent the whole of his life fighting. It was all he knew or understood.
He couldn’t do as Fang and just lie down and wait for death. There had to be something out there that could reach his brother.
Something out there that could make both of them want to live again.
Vane paused as he neared one of those women’s shops that were every few feet in the Quarter. It was a large red brick building trimmed in black and burgundy. The entire front of it was made of glass that showed inside where the store was littered with lacy, women’s things and delicate, feminine tchotchkes.
But it wasn’t the merchandise that made him pause.
It was her.
He’d seen her only once and then only briefly as he guarded Sunshine Runningwolf in Jackson Square while the artist had sold her artwork. Oblivious to him, Bride had come up to Sunshine and the two of them had chatted.
Bride had been the most beautiful woman Vane had ever seen.
She still was.
Her long auburn hair was pulled up into a messy bun on her head. She wore a long, black dress that flowed around her body as she jerked a vacuum cleaner around on the carpet.
Every animal instinct in his body roared to life as he saw her again. It was primal. Demanding.
Against his will, he found himself headed toward her. It wasn’t until he had opened the burgundy door that he realized she was crying.
Fierce anger tore through him. It was bad enough that his life sucked, the last thing he wanted was to see someone like her cry.
Bride paused her vacuuming and looked up as she heard someone entering her shop. Her breath caught in her throat. Never in her life had she seen a more handsome man.
His long wavy dark brown hair was worn back into a sexy ponytail. His white t-shirt was pulled tight over a body that most women only saw in the best magazine ads. It was a body that had been meant for sex. Tall and lean, that body begged a woman to caress it just to see if it was as hard and perfect as it appeared.
His handsome features were sharp, chiseled and he had a day’s growth of beard on his face. It was the face of a rebel who didn’t cater to current fashions, but who lived his life solely on his own terms.
Bride couldn’t see his eyes for the dark sunglasses he wore, but she sensed his gaze. Felt it like a smoldering touch.
This man was tough. He was fierce and it sent a wave of panic through her.
Why would someone like this be in her shop that specialized in women’s accessories?
The vacuum which she hadn’t moved a single millimeter since he’d entered her store, started to smoke. Drawing her breath in sharply, she quickly turned it off and fanned the motor with her hand.
“Can I help you?” she asked as she struggled to put it behind her counter.
Heat suffused her cheeks as the motor continued to smoke and added a not so pleasant odor of burning dust to the potpourri scented candles she used.
She smiled lamely at the devastatingly hot god who stood so nonchalantly in her store. “Sorry about that.”
Vane closed his eyes as he savored the melodic southern lilt of her voice. It reached deep inside him, making his whole body burn.
But she was scared of him. His animal half sensed it. And that was the last thing he wanted.
Reaching up, he pulled the sunglasses off and offered her a small smile. “Hi.”
It didn’t help. If anything, the sight of his eyes made her even more nervous.
Bride was stunned. She wouldn’t have thought he could become better looking, but with that devilish grin, he did.
Worse, the intense, feral look of that languid gaze made her shivery and hot. Never in her life had she seen a man even one tenth as good looking as this one.
“Hi,” she said back, feeling like nine kinds of stupid.
His gaze finally left her and went around the store to her various displays.
“I’m looking for a present,” he said in that deeply hypnotic voice. She could listen to him speak for hours and for some reason she couldn’t explain, she wanted to hear him say her name.
Bride cleared her throat and put those stupid thoughts away as she came out from behind her counter. If her cute ex couldn’t stomach her looks, why would a god like this one give a rat’s bottom about her?
So she decided to calm down before she embarrassed herself with him. “Who is it for?”
“Someone very special.”
His gaze came back to hers and made her tremble even more. He shook his head slightly. “I could never be so lucky,” he said, his tone low, beguiling.
What an odd thing for him to say. She couldn’t imagine this guy having trouble getting any woman he wanted. Who on earth would say no to that?
On second thought, she hoped she never met a woman that attractive. If she did, she would be morally obligated to run her over in her car.
“How much are you wanting to spend?”
He shrugged. “Money doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Bride blinked at that. Gorgeous and loaded. Man, some woman out there was lucky.
“Okay. We have some necklaces. Those are always a nice gift.”
Vane followed her over to an alcove against the far wall where she had a mirror set up with a multitude of beaded chokers and earrings.
The scent of her made him hard and hot. It was all he could do not to dip his head down to her shoulder and just inhale until he was drunk from her. He focused his gaze on the bare, pale skin of her neck…
He licked his lips as he imagined what she would taste like. What it would feel like to have her lush curves pressed up against his body. To have her lips swollen from his kisses, her eyes dark and dreamy from passion as she looked up at him.
Even worse, he could sense her own desire and it whet his appetites even more.
“Which is your favorite?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.
There was a black Victorian choker that had her scent all over it. It was obvious she had tried it on recently.
“This one,” she said, reaching for it.
His cock hardened even more as her fingers brushed the black onyx stones. He wanted nothing more than to run his hand down her extended arm, to skim his palm over her soft, pale skin until he reached her hand. A hand he would love to nibble.
“Would you try it on for me?”
Bride trembled at the deep note of his voice. What was it about him that made her so nervous?
But then she knew. He was intensely masculine and being under his direct scrutiny was as excruciating as it was disconcerting.
She tried to put the necklace on, but her hands shook so badly that she couldn’t fasten it.
“May I help?” he asked.
She swallowed and nodded.
His warm hands touched hers, making her even more jittery. She looked up in the mirror to catch sight of those gorgeous hazel green eyes that stared at her with a heat that made her shiver.
He deftly fastened it. His fingers lingered at her neck for a minute before he met her gaze in the mirror and stepped back.
“Beautiful,” he breathed huskily only he wasn’t looking at the necklace. He was staring into the reflection of her eyes. “I’ll take it.”
Torn between relief and sadness, Bride looked away quickly as she reached to take it off. In truth, she loved this necklace and hated to see it go. She’d bought it for the store, but had wanted to keep it.
But why bother? It was a six hundred dollar, handmade work of art. She’d never have any place to wear it. It would be a waste and the pragmatic Irishwoman in her wouldn’t allow her to be so foolish.
Pulling it off, she swallowed the new lump in her throat and headed for the register.
Vane watched her intently. She was even sadder than before. Gods how he wanted nothing more than to have her smile at him. What did a human male say to a human female to make her happy?
She-wolves didn’t really smile, not like humans did. Their smiles were more devious, seductive. Inviting. His people didn’t smile when they were happy.
They had sex which to him was he biggest benefit to being an animal over a human. Humans had rules about intimacy that he had never fully understood.
She placed the necklace in a large white box that had a cotton pad in the bottom. “Would you like it gift-wrapped?”
Carefully, she removed the price tag, set it next to the register, then pulled out a small piece of paper that had been precut to the size of the box. Without looking up at him, she quickly wrapped the box and rang his sale.
“Six hundred and twenty-three dollars and eighty-four cents, please.”
Still she didn’t look at him. Instead her gaze was focused on the ground near his feet.
Vane felt a strange need to dip down until his face was in her line of sight. He refrained as he pulled his wallet out and handed her his American Express card.
It was laughable really that a wolf had a human credit card. But then this was the twenty-first century and those who didn’t blend quickly found themselves exterminated. Unlike many others of his kind, he had investments and property. Hell, he even had a personal banker.
She took the card and ran it through her computer terminal.
“You work here alone?” he asked and quickly learned that was inappropriate since her fear returned with a scent so strong it almost made him curse out loud.
She was lying to him. He could smell it.
Good going, jackass. Humans. He’d never understand them. But then they were weak, especially their females.
She handed him the receipt.
Aggravated at himself for making her even more uncomfortable, he signed his name and handed it back to her.
She compared his signature to his card and frowned. “Katta…”
“Kattalakis,” he said for her. “It’s Greek.”
Her eyes lighted up just a bit as she returned the card to him. “That’s very different. You must have a hard time spelling it for people.”
She tucked the paper into her drawer, then placed the wrapped box in a small bag with corded handles. “Thanks,” she said quietly, setting it on the counter in front of him. “Have a nice a day.”
He nodded and headed for the door, his heart even heavier than before that he had failed to make her happy.
“Wait!” she said as he touched the knob. “You left your necklace.”
Vane looked back at her one last time, knowing he would never see her again. She was so beautiful there with large, amber eyes set in a pale face. There was something about her that reminded him of a Rubens’ angel. She was ethereal and lovely.
And far too fragile for an animal.
“No,” he said quietly. “I left it with the woman I wanted to have it.”
Bride felt her jaw go slack as his words hung in the air between them. “I can’t take this.”
He opened the door and headed out into the street.