TRISTAN CHAPTERS 1-3
In New Orleans you’d better like your sushi deep-fried and your saxophone dipped in a coating of bluesy jazz, or you wouldn’t survive long in the Big Easy.
Music rang out through the Jackson Square courtyard as street musicians turned up the volume and charm to compete for tourist dollars. Tonight the jazzy band at the end of the square attempted to lure their crowd away from a lone trumpet player and a violinist.
Along with the musicians, tarot and palm readers had already set up their tables, staggering them just enough to give the pretense of privacy.
Isabel “Izzy” MacDougal did a quick head count. There were ten tables in total. Her table would make eleven, but she only counted the ones in Jackson Square. Others would be set up along the side streets near Bourbon Street, hoping to catch the stray drunk ready to part with their hard-earned cash.
Izzy scanned the growing crowd as she unfolded her small card table and spread her purple shawl on top of it. She spotted her friend Everly Watts a few tables over and waved.
Everly waved back then returned to reading the woman seated across from her. Izzy had met the short, dark-haired Goth when she first arrived in New Orleans a month ago.
Despite resembling an anemic vampire, Everly was down to earth and turned out to be a good friend. Most nights she could be found at The Dungeon with all the other Goths and vampire wannabes in town. The pancake makeup disguised her sensitive nature and fierce intelligence, but nothing hid her street smarts.
Izzy smiled as a few people slowed to browse her table.They didn’t notice that enterprising locals were shadowing them, waiting for them to drop their guard.
Not even dusk yet and the French Quarter already bursting at the seams with sunburned tourists and crafty pickpockets.
Izzy finished setting up and took a seat. She kept her expression open. Hard to do when she was continuously bombarded by impressions from the growing crowd, but she managed. Unlike some of the others situated around the square, Izzy had a true gift of Sight.
She snorted. Some gift.
She and Everly had glommed onto each other when Izzy discovered that Everly suffered from the same “gift” that she’d grown up with. It wasn’t easy being psychic, especially in a world populated by skeptics and monsters.
Instead of growing up in a loving household like Isabel, Everly had been kicked out of her home when her gifts arrived. According to the petite Goth, she’d been living on her own ever since. She survived by taking on menial jobs and never staying in one place for too long. Another thing that they had in common.
Izzy shuffled her tarot cards and smiled at a passing group of women. The women wore flowery nametags across their chests, advertising a local conference.
“Would you like to know what your future holds, ladies?”she asked.
One of the women giggled, but the ash blonde stopped to chat. “Can you tell me if I’m going to meet someone soon?”she asked.
“Sure,” Izzy said. “Take a seat.”
The woman’s hand clasped the back of the folding chair as she pulled it out to sit down.
“Lisa, you’re not really going to waste your money on that crap, are you?” her friend asked.
Uncertainty filled the blonde’s green eyes. Before she caved to peer pressure, Izzy flipped the first card over.
“He has dark hair,” she said.
The woman scooted forward on her seat. “Really?” “Yes,” Izzy said. “And he’s tall.”
“Is his name Mike?” Lisa asked, peering into the cards in search of answers.
Izzy closed her eyes and concentrated. She saw the dark-haired man in her vision drop down to one knee in front of the blond woman.
“I see him proposing,” Izzy said. “It’s quite a ring.”
Lisa squealed. “Oh my God! When?”
Izzy examined her vision. The leaves on the trees around the couple were orange and red, but no limbs were bare.“The fall.” She opened her eyes. “He’ll propose in the fall.”
The woman whipped her head around to search for herfriends. “Did you hear that? Mike is going to propose to me in the fall.”
The skeptic among them simply shook her head in disgust. “Mike’s a jerk,” she muttered.
Izzy turned her attention away from the cards and stared at the woman. Her black aura came into view. The color startled her. On occasion when Izzy looked at people, shadow obscured their entire face. She had no idea what the darkness meant, but it always felt evil and frightened her.
This was different. The woman’s dark aura didn’tobscure her features. Izzy peered deeper, past the outer layer to see what caused the woman’s pain.
A red-haired man appeared in her mind, then his image quickly faded into a tombstone with the name Thomas carved into its rigid gray face.
“I’m sorry about Thomas,” Izzy said. “He really loved you.”
The woman’s face went from red to white, as the blood drained from her cheeks. “How did you know about him?”she whispered.
Izzy shrugged. She couldn’t begin to explain where her gift came from and certainly not to someone who wasn’t ready to listen.
“Think she’s still a fraud?” Lisa asked as she plucked several bills out of her wallet and laid them on the table.
“Let’s go,” the skeptic said. “I need a drink.”
The crowd swallowed them. More people approached her. Izzy got ten more readings done before her head threatened to explode.
The pain happened every night. She could only read for so long before her gift exerted too much pressure and her body gave out. At least she’d made enough to pay rent. All in all a good night.
Izzy was packing her things, when the first inkling of unease struck. She casually scanned the crowd, but no one seemed overly interested in her. She finished gathering her fortune-telling tools and shoved them into her backpack. She quickly folded her table and chairs then took them over to Everly.
“Can you keep these for me until tomorrow?” Izzy asked.
Everly’s back stiffened, and she frowned. “Sure,” she said, scanning the faces around them. “I feel it, too.”
“It’s okay,” Izzy said. Whatever was out there didn’t know about Everly—at least not yet. She’d lead it away before it detected her friend. “I’m going to head out. Catch you later.”
Everly nodded, but she didn’t relax. She continued to covertly scan the crowd.
Izzy weaved her way through the throng, cutting along Pere Antoine’s alley before hanging a left toward St. Peter Street. She glanced up and down the sidewalk to be sure she wasn’t being followed, then ducked into Yo Mama’s Bar and Grill.
The bearded doorman greeted her with a friendly smile. Izzy grinned back then bounded up the stairs to where her friend Heather bartended.
A red light illuminated the small space. Two couches, a couple of long tables, dancing statues, and a small bar filled the room. Classic rock from an old jukebox blared out of speakers mounted in the ceiling. The place still had the decor of a bordello, but it had amazing hamburgers.
Izzy’s stomach growled. She wished she had time to order a burger, but she needed to use Heather’s phone then get back to her apartment on Dumaine Street.
Heather had just popped the cap off a longneck, when she spotted Izzy. She smiled, then without saying a word, she grabbed her cell phone and tossed it to her. Izzy caught it easily, mouthed the word “thanks,” and quickly called her sister, Mindy.
She didn’t want to alarm her sister, but Izzy needed to let Mindy know that someone was following her and she might have to lay low for a while.
It would hurt to be out of touch with her sister, but Izzy didn’t have much choice. The darkness she’d sensed in Breakbend, Oregon was here and getting closer. She’d felt its presence growing, and it terrified her.
Izzy finished up her call and handed the phone back to Heather. “Thanks,” she said.
“Anytime,” Heather said. “Catch you later?”
She shook her head. “Not tonight. I have a headache.”Izzy rubbed her temples for emphasis.
“Catch you next time,” Heather said then moved onto awaiting customer.
Izzy hurried down the stairs but stopped before she stepped out onto the sidewalk. The doorman watched her, but didn’t say anything since this wasn’t exactly new behavior from her.
“It’s all clear,” he said.
“Thanks.” Izzy slipped out the door and headed toward Bourbon. She’d just passed Royal Street, when the sensation of being observed returned.
Izzy glanced over her shoulder but didn’t see anyone. Didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Ordinary being a relative term in the French Quarter. Nothing to alarm her, but Izzy knew he was there.
She felt him.
She wound her way through the heavy crowd, hoping to lose her pursuer on raucous Bourbon Street. With the sun going down, the mood on the street changed. Izzy turned down Dumaine Street.
The crowd thinned, and she caught sight of Louis Armstrong Park in the distance. The trees swayed as the sun dipped below the horizon and darkness took over. A shiver tracked down her spine.
This was their time. The time when they were most active. The time when the real monsters came out and hunted.
Izzy hurried along the uneven sidewalks. She heard music coming from Bourbon Street. The jumble of sounds and the collision of smells should’ve comforted her, but Izzy knew she wasn’t alone.
She tripped over a raised concrete slab and fell forward. She grabbed the wrought iron fence that ran along the front of one of the old gentrified homes to keep from falling.
The metal felt good in her hand. Cool. Hard. Real. Real as the heavy footsteps coming up fast behind her. Izzy pushed away from the fence and sprinted on.
Her blood pumped so hard she could barely hear herself think. Izzy turned to see who approached and collided with a wall. She cursed under her breath and looked at the offending object in her way. It wasn’t a wall at all. Somehow she’d buried her nose in a man’s hard chest.
Strong hands grasped her arms. Whether to keep her from falling or prevent her from leaving, she didn’t know. Izzy craned her neck to see who she’d run into. Her gaze collided with a pair of mercury-colored eyes, and she shivered, despite his handsome face.
Her body went from hot to cold to hot again. Staring in his eyes was like staring into the face of the Arctic. His white-blond hair and stern expression mirrored the harsh, unforgiving environment.
Izzy opened her mouth to apologize, but before she uttered a single syllable, the image of a white wolf obscured his striking features. She felt the blood drain from her face. He was one of them.
“Let me go,” she said, struggling to break his grasp.
He didn’t release her. Instead, the man’s grip tightened. “You’re being hunted,” he said.
She knew that. Izzy had known that for days. Weird that he announced it like he wasn’t the one hunting her.
The man had to be the biggest monster she’d ever seen. Given his size, he’d be unnaturally large for a werewolf, and that was saying something, since they leaned toward massive.
“Let me go or I’m going to scream,” Izzy said.
“This is the French Quarter,” he said. “No one will notice or care.” His sensual lips tilted into a smirk.
Izzy wanted to knock that smirk right off his face.
As if reading her mind, his smile vanished. “If you don’t come with me, you’re going to die.”
Despite the ominous and rather clichéd warning, Izzy had no intention of going anywhere with him. She’d seen his true form. She would be safer locked in a cage with a half-starved polar bear. Everything about this man screamed danger.
A trash-can lid banged at the end of the street. They both turned to see what had caused the noise. Izzy took his momentary distraction as a chance to get away. She twisted out of his hold and took off running.
She didn’t get far. He was on her before she’d made it ten feet. Given his tremendous height and long legs it wasn’t really a surprise, but she’d had to try.
A small crowd of men and women wandered by. Izzy flagged them down. As they slowed to a stop, the giant beside her swung her around, and his mouth descended upon hers.
Tristan needed her to shut up and listen, but short of gagging her, he had no way of making her comply. He’d expected to find a flighty, air-headed female, but Isabel was also far smarter than he’d anticipated. Manipulating her wasn’t going to be easy. When she flagged the small crowd down, Tristan used the only thing he had on hand to silence her. Himself.
He spun her around in his arms and pulled her close. His mouth came down upon hers before she understood what was happening. The second their lips met, something unexpected occurred, something entirely unwanted.
Tristan’s body hardened, and heat exploded inside of him. Urges that he viciously suppressed surfaced in an instant. His hands tightened on her shirt, and his arms locked. He felt her nipples harden against his chest a moment before her body melted into his.
Instead of keeping the embrace superficial, Tristan deepened it. He nipped Isabel’s full bottom lip until she opened for him, then Tristan surged inside.
Sweetness exploded on his tongue. He’d never tasted anything like it, like her. It was at odds with the citrusy aroma wafting from her skin. Tristan wanted more, so he took it.
He sank his hand into the wild tangle of her blonde-and-purple hair then tilted her head to get better access. Whoops and laughter surrounded them, but he ignored it all as he thoroughly explored Isabel’s mouth.
Her hands tightened on his shirt, hesitated a moment, then she kissed him back. Fire spread through his body, making every inch of him hard. They needed to find a room before he ended up stripping her naked right here. Tristan calculated the distance to the nearest hotel. If they left now, it wouldn’t take long to reach it.
She’s human. The thought filtered through his mind. The reminder chilled his ardor as effectively as dumping ice water down the front of his jeans.
Tristan reluctantly pulled back. His chest heaved as he drew in air, waiting for his head to clear.
Izzy’s world continued to tilt off its axis, even after he ended the embrace. Despite his frosty exterior, the man’s lips were scorching. Maybe he wasn’t made of ice after all.
The crowd she’d flagged down had wandered off at some point, leaving them alone. In some part of her mind, Izzy had realized that they were leaving, but for the life of her, she hadn’t been able to tear her mouth away. Izzy had been kissed before. Plenty of times. But never like this.
His hands were still locked around her waist, clutching her shirt. The heat of his palms seared her flesh and made her wonder what would happen if they were skin to skin. Spontaneous combustion came to mind.
He must’ve realized what he was doing because he jerked his hands away and stepped back, putting some distance between them. This time when he looked at her, he scowled, banking the heat that had simmered in his mercury-colored eyes.
Was he mad at her or himself? It didn’t really matter. She wasn’t going anywhere with him, even if her lips were tingling and other parts of her were making unreasonable demands.
The man might be angry, but he remained fully aware of their surroundings. “If you don’t come with me willingly, I’m going to pick you up and carry you.”
Izzy glared at him and scrambled out of reach. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Before the sound of her words died, the man hoisted her over his shoulder and took off running down the street. The sudden move jarred Izzy’s ribs, driving the air from her lungs. It would serve him right if she threw up on him. And she would’ve, had she bothered to eat.
Izzy managed to drag a breath into her body. “Put me down this instant!” She smacked his back, but the man didn’t notice. “Do you hear me?”
He grunted in response but didn’t slow.
“I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re not going to get away with kidnapping me,” Izzy said.
“Who is going to stop me?” He didn’t even sound winded when he spoke. “You?” he asked.
She’d stop him. Just as soon as she managed to catch her breath and quell the nausea rising inside her.
They passed several revelers on the way to Louis Armstrong Park. No one paid attention to them, even when she cried for help. The sight of a man carrying a woman over his shoulder wasn’t unusual in this part of town.
The music faded as they moved farther and farther away. Soon, they’d be isolated. Izzy couldn’t allow that to happen. Every investigative procedure show she’d ever watched said never leave with your attacker.
Of course, they never mentioned what to do if your attacker picked you up and carried you away.
“Put me down,” she said. “I want to walk.”
His thumb stroked over the back of her thigh. Every muscle inside of Izzy stiffened, while other parts melted—thanks to that stupid kiss. She pressed her lips together. She could still taste him. And an insane part of her that she refused to acknowledge wanted more.
“I mean it,” Izzy said. “Put me down, or I’m going to hurl on you.” She gagged to prove she wasn’t bluffing.
His footsteps faltered. Guess he didn’t want to be vomited on. “You cannot get away,” he said.
Probably true, but it wouldn’t stop her from trying.
“Let me go, and we’ll forget this ever happened,” Izzy said.
He shook his head, sending his long blond hair into his face. “I’m afraid that’s not an option,” he said.
Izzy saw her last chance to escape. She took a deep breath to scream again. The man leapt over six feet, dropping her down onto his hard shoulder. The move knocked the wind out of her again. No doubt that was his intention.
She gasped. “Jerk!” Izzy couldn’t see his obnoxious smile, but she felt his shoulders shake with laughter. He’d pay for that.
For a human, Isabel MacDougal had a lot of spirit. Most women would be screaming their heads off by now. Oh sure,she’d tried to get help, but she hadn’t fought him.
A woman afraid for her life would’ve ripped the hair from his head, which told Tristan that she wasn’t as afraid of him as she claimed to be.
He kept running, moving them deeper into the shadows.He still sensed the Darkling’s magic thanks to the lodestone around his neck, but it was fainter now.
Tristan didn’t want to think about how close Isabel had come to being captured by the Darkling. He’d barely managed to reach her first.
He sniffed the air. Other than a few homeless people and some unsavory types, the park was empty. He kept moving.
With enough distance between them, they wouldn’t be disturbed. Eventually Tristan stopped and set Isabel down.
She wobbled then staggered a few feet away. “What do you plan to do to me now that you’ve abducted me?” she asked.
Tristan arched a brow. “I’m not going to attack you, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“You already did,” she reminded him.
His eyes narrowed. “I kissed you. It’s not the same.”
Her pale brow furrowed. “Why did you kiss me?”
Good question. Tristan had been wondering the same thing, since now it seemed like such a mistake. It would be easy to say that he’d been trying to keep her silent. That had been the catalyst behind his actions, but the truth was Tristan didn’t care if she screamed. He would’ve taken her with him anyway. Then there was the kiss itself... and what happened afterward.
Not liking the direction his thoughts were taking, he glared at her. Something about her mouth captured his attention. Even now, her full lips drew his reluctant gaze. They were moist, red, and oh so soft. Even her taste had been different than he’d expected.
Perhaps she wore something to enhance their appearance, enhance their flavor?
Tristan might stretch the truth with others, but he never lied to himself. That honeysuckle flavor was all her own, and damned if he didn’t want more.
His frowned deepened. That wasn’t going to happen. He shouldn’t have touched her in the first place. It wasn’t part of his plan.
Tristan didn’t need to be thinking about her lips or her succulent taste. He was here to kill a Darkling, and nothing more. If he kept Isabel alive in the process, then great, but her continued existence wasn’t necessary for accomplishing his mission. At least not after she drew the Darkling out.
“I kissed you to save your life,” Tristan said.
Isabel snorted in disbelief. “Right, sure you did.”
“I did,” he said, sounding defensive. “You’re in danger.” She cocked her head and looked at him. “From who? As
far as I can tell, you’re the only threat to my safety.”
Tristan didn’t like his actions being questioned. She should just thank him and be grateful he’d arrived when he had. “Someone is hunting you.”
“That didn’t answer my question, Frosty,” she said.
She was smart and oddly attractive despite the awful purple in her hair. “No, I didn’t,” Tristan said. “And my name is not Frosty.”
“Whatever, Ice.” Isabel rolled her eyes. “Are you always a jerk, or am I just special?”
Tristan approached her until he loomed above her.“You’d do well to remember what I am,” he said softly.
She bit her lower lip.
His gaze dropped to her mouth of its own volition, and something dark rose inside of him. Her tongue darted out to wet her lips. Tristan’s jaw clenched. The memory of their kiss came charging back, and his entire body tensed to the point of pain. He curled his hands into fists to keep from grabbing her.
“I know what you are. It’s not like I can ever forget,” Isabel said. “I see the real you every time I look at you.”
Tristan jerked his head back. He knew Sighted-Ones could see the beast lurking beneath their human forms. It was one of the things that made them so valuable to the Darklings, but it unsettled him to know a human had such ability. It would make hiding from them impossible.
The only thing that kept them from being a direct threat to the Moonlight Kin was the fact that most humans wouldn’t believe them. If that were to change...then people like Isabel MacDougal would need to be eliminated.
The thought left Tristan decidedly uneasy, but he refused to look at why. Instead, he focused on her colorful hair. “A simple thank-you would’ve been enough,” he said.
Her brow rose at the same time as her smart mouth dropped open. “You expect me to thank you, Marshmallow? After what you did? Are you insane?” she asked.
Tristan gritted his teeth. He was not used to sparring with sharp-tongued, purple-haired hoydens who didn’t know what was good for them. As the Enforcer for the Lycanian Elders, people respected and feared him. Known for his cold countenance and unwavering tenacity, Tristan took great pride in his position. The impression he made had never bothered him until now. Of course up until now, it had never been thrown in his face.
“I am as sane as you are,” he snarled, moving his face closer to hers. “The only difference is I have a stronger sense of self-preservation. You, Ms. Purple Hair, have a deathwish.”
Isabel put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “And you, Snowball, can suck my big toe!”
Did he really think she was that stupid? Only a fool would trust one of them with their lives. They were the monsters, the creatures that came out of the night to swallow you up.
Either that or he had an overinflated opinion of his kissing abilities. Izzy glanced at his harsh mouth. Okay, maybe he deserved some bragging rights on that front, but that wasn’t the point.
“Listen, I’m not sure who you think I am, but you have the wrong girl.” Izzy hoped he didn’t notice the tremor in her voice.
“Scents don’t lie,” he said.
Izzy swallowed hard. “Well this time your schnoz is wrong. So why don’t you just be a good frost giant and run along?”
His mercury eyes glistened, then he slowly blinked. “Is there something wrong with your hearing?” He snapped his finger next to her ear.
Izzy flushed and shoved his hand away. “No, is there something wrong with yours?”
He stiffened. “I can hear things you never knew existed,”he said through clenched teeth.
“Good for you, Snowflake, but you’re still wrong about me,” she said, more boldly than she felt.
The voices that had been in the distance grew louder. Perhaps if they got close enough, Izzy could scream for help. She had no doubt the giant of a man beside her wouldn’t like the attention.
His silver eyes narrowed. “Don’t even think about it,” he hissed.
“Think about what?” she asked innocently.
“Whatever was going through your little purple head,” hesaid.
“I didn’t say anything, Whiteout,” Izzy said.
“You didn’t have to,” he snarled.
The man raised his head and sniffed the air. The canine move startled her.
“Your pursuer has changed directions,” he said after another moment.
Izzy smiled. “Great! Then I guess I’ll see you around, Snow Drift.”
“My name is Tristan Chevalier.” He flashed astonishingly white teeth. “I suggest you remember it. You’ll be hearing it a lot.”
She took a step back. “I don’t want to know your name.”
Her confession brought out a frown, but Tristan didn’t comment. “Whether you like it or not, we are stuck together.” He held up a hand. “At least for the time being.”
“Yeah.” Izzy shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m a solo act. Besides, how do you know that I’m the one being hunted? It might be after you,” she said.
“Oh, it would definitely like to kill me,” Tristan said nonchalantly. “Of that there is no doubt.”
“I know the feeling, Frosty,” Izzy muttered.
Tristan scowled. “But I will not give it or you the opportunity.”
She believed him. Izzy couldn’t imagine much taking Tristan down. “If you’re so big and bad, why do you need me?” she asked. “It’s not like I can help. I’m crap in a fight. Just ask my sister.”
Tristan cocked his head. “There wasn’t time to ask Mindy,” he said.
Fear engulfed Izzy. How did Tristan know about her sister? She didn’t like the look he gave her. “How do you know Mindy?” she asked, bracing for his answer.
This time his smile left her chilled to the bone. “If she hasn’t already, she will soon mate with one of the MoonlightKin.”
Izzy shook her head in denial. “My sister would never marry a monster.”
Tristan’s smile became colder, if that were even possible. “Not all monsters are created equal. I pray for your sake that you don’t learn that firsthand.”
Izzy shivered and glanced away. She needed to get to a phone to warn Mindy, then she needed to get out of town.
A police cruiser rolled to a stop behind Tristan. The officers climbed out of their car. This was it. This was her chance to get away from Frosty, the crazy snowman.
Tristan raised one powdery white brow and waited for her to answer.
“Forget it,” she said, then in the next breath yelled for the police.
His head whipped around too late. The officers were already approaching them. Tristan cursed loudly and glared at her.
“You’re a fool,” he said, then took off across the park.
Izzy watched him go. Hopefully that would be the last time she saw him. An odd sense of disappointment followed the thought.
“Jeez, girl, it was just a kiss,” she muttered then approached the police. “Thank goodness you guys got here when you did. I think he was going to mug me.”
The police escorted Izzy home and checked her apartment. As they departed, they warned her to stay away from tourists.
Izzy waved goodbye, then quickly shut the door and locked it. She wasn’t safe anymore. Not that she’d ever truly been, but she thought she’d have a little more time in New Orleans before she’d have to go.
She glanced around her studio. Other than a daybed, which served as both a couch and a place to sleep, there wasn’t much in the place. Her foldable table and chair were with Everly.
The blood drained from Izzy’s face. Oh gawd, she had to warn Everly about Tristan. It wasn’t safe for her to stay either.
Izzy tossed clothes and her essentials into her tote bag. She was in the middle of packing when someone knocked onthe door. Izzy’s heart jumped into her throat.
Had Tristan found her already? Maybe the police had returned? Was it too much to hope for that they’d found Tristan and arrested him?
She grabbed the bat she kept next to the daybed and quietly tiptoed to the front door. Izzy peeked out the peephole and saw a dark-haired, handsome guy standing on her porch. She didn’t recognize him. He looked young enough to be in college. Was he lost?
It wouldn’t be the first time that someone knocked on her door by mistake, but after the night she’d had, Izzy wasn’t taking any chances.
She checked again, this time using her gift. A swirl of darkness surrounded him, but Izzy didn’t detect a beast. However, the darkness didn’t bode well. She decided to ignore him and keep packing.
“Please, Isabel. I need to talk to you,” he said. “I know you’re in there.”
He knew her name. How did he know her name?
Izzy cracked the door open, but didn’t remove the chain. “Who are you, and what do you want?”
“Isabel?” he asked, as if he were unsure now that he got alook at her.
That gave her pause. “What do you want with her?” Izzy asked.
He stared at her. Like Frosty, this man was good-looking. The kind of guy most college-aged girls would welcome with open arms and open legs. Unlike Frosty, he seemed nervous.
“I came to warn you that you’re in danger,” he said. “Can I please come in?”
Gooseflesh rose on Izzy’s arms, and she glanced behind him to make sure Tristan wasn’t hiding in the bushes. The thought almost made her laugh. Almost.
“My name is...” He glanced around. “Stone,” he said after a moment.
“Okay, Stone.” Izzy emphasized his odd name so he’d know she didn’t believe him. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s not what you can do for me, it’s what I can do for you,” he said, surprising her. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but there are monsters after you.”
“Monsters?” Izzy asked, trying to hide her shock. “Whywould you say something like that?”
His amber gaze met hers, and he swallowed hard.“Because they’re after me, too.”
Izzy reared back in shock. No wonder he’d given her a fake name. He knew the truth. Stone opened his mouth to say more, but she held up a finger to stop him. “Wait.” Izzy closed the door to unhook the chain then opened it again.“Please come in.”
He flashed her a quick smile. “Thank you for the much-needed invitation,” he said, then swept into the room.
Izzy ignored the odd churning sensation in her gut. There wasn’t time to examine it. She had to get out of here.
“We don’t have much time,” he said, as if reading her mind. “I have reason to believe that you’re being stalked.”
Fear tightened her chest. She’d met her stalker already.What Izzy needed to know was if there were more of them hunting her.
“Have you seen or heard anything odd lately?” Stone asked.
Other than being kidnapped by an iceberg earlier, no, not lately. Izzy shook her head.
Stone scanned her small apartment, taking it all in withone glance. “You need to get some clothes together and come with me,” he said.
Izzy wasn’t going anywhere with him or anyone else. “How do you know about the monsters?” she asked.
“I sense them,” Stone said. “Don’t you?”
Yes, she did, but she rarely came across others like herself. Everly was the first person she’d met in years thathad a true gift.
“That’s why they want me so bad.” Stone’s head came up, and he turned toward the open door. “He’s coming,” he hissed. “We have to go now!”
“No,” Izzy said. Although Stone seemed genuinely distressed, she didn’t know this man. “I’ll be okay on my own.”
His eyes turned pleading. “I’m not kidding,” Stone said. “He’s coming. I can feel him like an itch beneath my skin.”An irritating rash...
Definitely sounded like Tristan.
“I feel him, too,” she said calmly, though calm wasn’t what Izzy felt at all. She wanted to smash the stupid butterflies flitting around in her stomach. “You should go, while you can.”
Stone shook his dark head. “You don’t understand the danger you’re in,” he said. “We should stick together.”
She did, but there wasn’t time to convince Stone. Izzy was well aware of what could happen to her if she let her
“The thing that’s coming is a killer,” Stone said.
Izzy knew that, too, since Tristan had admitted as much, though she wasn’t sure how much was truth and how much was bluster. “Have you seen him?”
Stone shook his head.
“Well I have,” she said. “You really need to go before he gets here.”
Stone scanned her apartment. “Do you have a cell phone?” he asked.
“No.” Izzy had always been afraid that the monsterswould use it to track her, so she’d avoided them.
Stone pulled a cell phone out of the pocket of his jeans. He shoved the phone into her hands. “Take this. The number is in the address book, along with one where I can be reached. Once you find someplace to hide, call me and let me know that you’re safe.”
“I will,” she said.
His gaze continued to dart toward the door. “Are you sure you won’t come with me?”
“Positive,” she said.
Stone looked as if he wanted to say more but instead shook his head. “I really have to go. If you run into trouble, call! I’ll come and get you anywhere, anytime.” He bolted out the door before she had the chance to respond and disappeared down the street.
Izzy saw a streak of white flash by and knew exactly who was on his trail. She prayed that Stone was faster, but there wasn’t anything she could do to help him. Izzy glanced back at her tote bag. She had to get out of here before Frosty found her again. Izzy finished packing and left a note and some money on the counter for her landlord. She glanced at the small apartment she’d called home one last time, then shut the door.
Only one place she could think to go. She hoped Everly didn’t mind the company. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. If Tristan Chevalier found her, then he’d easily find Everly. Izzy wasn’t about to leave Louisiana without warning her friend.
The scent of the Darkling burned Tristan’s nostrils as he raced through the French Quarter in his wolf form. He was so close, he could almost taste the foul being on the air. The houses blurred as he poured on speed. The lodestone around his neck pulsed as it encountered a wave of dark magic.
Tristan shuddered and almost lost form, but somehow his great beast prevailed. He turned a corner, following the pull of the magic, and suddenly the Darkling’s scent disappeared.The hair on his nape stood on end. Tristan stopped and dropped his nose to the ground.
A week’s worth of city life smacked him in the face. He smelled spicy seafood, sweat, alcohol, and urine, but no Darkling. He raised his head and sniffed again, but the scent was gone. Had he opened a portal between the worlds and crossed over?
It shouldn’t be possible without Tristan feeling it in the lodestone. Was this Darkling more powerful than the others? The thought left Tristan decidedly uneasy.
He circled back one more time just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, but his nose didn’t lie. The Darkling was gone. Tristan growled in frustration and snapped at the air, then turned around and headed back the way he’d come.
When he’d been chasing the Darkling, he’d also picked up a familiar aroma. Isabel. Her strong scent let Tristan know that he had to have passed her during the chase or ran by her home. He retraced his steps until he encountered the honeysuckle and citrus aroma again. It was strange how quickly he’d associated the scent with Isabel.
Tristan stopped in front of a gray two-story mansion that had been converted into apartments. He put his nose to the ground and followed the sweet aroma wafting on the air until it ended at a closed door on the second floor.
Heat swept through him as Tristan allowed the change to take him. When it was over, he stood naked outside Isabel’s home. He listened but couldn’t hear a heartbeat inside.
Cold swept through him. Had the Darkling killed her?
Tristan’s chest throbbed. He rubbed the spot, unnerved by the sudden wash of pain. He took a deep breath. Relief struck when he didn’t encounter death’s pungent odor.
He glanced up and down the street to make sure that no one was around. Then Tristan turned the knob, breaking the lock. He pushed the door open. It squeaked, before settling against the wall.
Tristan stepped inside and glanced around the small space. Compared to the vibrant woman who lived there, the place was lifeless. He walked deeper into the room and closed the door behind him.
There were no personal items that he saw, nothing to indicate that Isabel had ever lived here other than her scent. Two steps brought him to the daybed. Without thought, Tristan pulled the blanket off the bed and brought it to his nose.
He inhaled and smelled Isabel. He took her honeysuckle scent into his lungs and once again felt his beast rise. Tristan dropped the blanket and searched the rest of the studio apartment. The cabinets in the bathroom had been left open, indicating that Isabel had departed in haste.
Anger surged to the surface. The little fool was running from him. Didn’t she know what would happen if she ran from his beast?
Tristan strode for the front door. As he yanked it open, he caught a scent of the Darkling. Fading now, but there was no mistaking the stench. A sense of urgency rose. He couldn’t let the Darkling find Isabel before he did.
Thanks to her blanket, he’d be able to track her scent. Unfortunately, so would the Darkling. Tristan threw his head back as the change swept through him. Bones snapped, and his body reshaped into the perfect predator.
Isabel thought she could run from him, hide until he went away, but she was about to find out there was nowhere for her to go that he wouldn’t find her.
No matter how fast he ran or how many false trails he laid, the white beast continued its relentless pursuit. Almost as if he were able to track his magic, which was impossible.
The Darkling had no choice but to open a portal into his realm. It was either that or fight to the death. He called out to the other side. Darkness thickened, then a tear in the fabric of this world shimmered a hundred yards in front of him.
He cursed as he ran for the entrance. The Darkling hadn’t planned on returning without the female. He’d been so close.He had almost had the Sighted-One in his grasp, only to have her taken away.
The Darkling glanced back and saw a flash of white barreling toward him. He picked up speed. The houses in the French Quarter became a blur.
He passed a couple of humans stumbling down the sidewalk. His wake swept them off their feet. They tumbled into the street, their limbs tangling.
He hoped that would delay the Moonlight Kin pursuing him, but he should’ve known better. The wolf leapt over the downed humans and kept coming. He didn’t even give thema second glance.
The Darkling frowned. This wolf wasn’t like the others he’d encountered. They all cared about the humans, as if they were more than mere prey. This wolf was different. Single-minded. Dangerous.
The entrance to his perpetually dark world swirled before him. The Darkling saw the full moon glowing on the other side, illuminating the thick forest. Magic crackled in the air. Not much farther.
The white beast couldn’t follow him, unless he wanted to die. The magic would take away his ability to shift into his wolf form and eventually kill him.
Only one wolf that he knew of had ever made it out alive, and he’d needed a portal rune stone to do it. His thievery had earned him a bounty on his head. Unfortunately, no Darkling had been able to locate him and claim the prize. Rumor had it he was dead.
The Darkling raced across the blackened ash that fell beneath the opening and jumped. He landed in his realm, his heart pounding in his chest, then turned to face the menace behind him.
The white wolf skidded to a halt, its nose nearly touching the entrance, and glared at him.
The Darkling laughed, but the sound came out as a shrill bark. He stood at the entrance taunting the beast, knowing full well he could do nothing about it.
Next time, he vowed, then trotted away.
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