Authors: Zenina Masters
Rejected by her family, Molly only has one place to go to find a mate and he is hunting her at the Crossroads.
Molly has lived as a king vulture amongst condors. Her family considers her animal a profound disappointment and has ignored her until she finally decides that she has a right to a life and she wants it.
When she is at the Crossroads, she notices the man sent to reclaim her, and while she knows he is in charge of her clan, she isn’t quite sure what he is.
After they acknowledge mutual attraction, they spend a night together and have to work on the consequences when they shift for their first big flight together.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Zenina Masters
Cover art by Carmen Waters
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Shifting Crossroads Book 18
Molly finished the last round of sandwiches and trimmed off the crusts. With expert moves, she set up five tea trays with a selection of filled sandwiches and pastries, all handmade at the Wexler Teahouse.
Molly grinned and brought out the trays to the waiting tables where her sister had already filled all the teapots. One table at a time was dealt tea for two, and when the towers of flavour had been delivered, she returned to the kitchen and tidied up.
Celeste came in with a smile and a loving stroke over her pregnant belly. “Are you ready for family-gathering night?”
Molly didn’t even bother looking at her glowing sister. “I am ready. Antonia is closing up tonight, so I will be there on time for once.”
She scrubbed at the baking pans and set them aside to dry.
“You could look at me when I am talking to you, Molly.”
“You are not talking
me, you are talking
me. There is a difference. I will be there on time and I won’t come early. Mom will have plenty of time to hide the fact that she had a dinner party for another avian family and didn’t invite me. Again.”
Molly glanced at Celeste, and her pretty sister actually flinched. “How long have you known?”
“Since I came home early after a mandatory movie night when I was eighteen. I respected her decision and hid in a tree until the guests left and my scheduled arrival time had come. You were wearing blue and Sissy was wearing a rose floral party dress.”
Molly finished cleaning up the kitchen while Celeste leaned against the wall.
“We didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
Molly grimaced. “Yes, mother did. More to the point, she is trying to protect the world at large from learning that one of her children is different.”
It was as close to a full discussion as they could have with a human in the next room.
Celeste whispered, “Can you blame her? We are rare enough without one of our family being different.”
“Celeste, what if your child isn’t all that you expected? Will you do what mom did or will you actually have some common sense?”
Celeste clutched her belly and left the kitchen for the back door.
Molly didn’t like to upset her sister, but she had reached a critical decision point. She would tell her family tonight.
Molly smoothed the lines of her dress as she waited in the darkness. For a bird who preferred daylight, she had to spend a lot of time lurking in the shadows.
When the last car was gone, she got out of her car and crossed through the trees to the house. She was strong; she was determined. She could do this.
The rest of the family was in the living room having drinks while the evening help was clearing the dining room.
“Hello, everyone, what did I miss?”
Celeste looked uncomfortable and moved closer to her husband.
Robert put his arm around her and drew her close.
Maryellen Wexler looked at her and sighed. “What do you mean?”
“I saw the gathering as they left, Mother. I am very tired of pretending that you aren’t hiding me.”
Edgar Wexler put his arm around his wife. “Don’t speak to your mother that way.”
Molly looked at her father and nodded. “Right. I thought so. Well, you don’t have to worry. Tomorrow, I go to the Crossroads and I will be out of your hair. I know what you think of my beast, and though we are all part of the same bird family, I understand the shame that you have experienced by my presence.”
She saw Robert nod slightly.
Sissy was sitting near the fireplace holding her drink in both hands. There was an engagement ring on her finger.
“Right. Enough. I will send you a note when I find out where I will be living. I don’t actually expect a reply.” She turned on her heel and left her family home, looking once at her old bedroom.
She shook off the sadness and headed for her car. She had a bag to pack and some plants to water. If one door closed, another door opened, and she had just slammed the hell out of the first one.
“Do you have the family donations?” The transporter smiled hopefully.
“They weren’t donations so much as shed feathers, but yeah, here they are.” Molly held out the offerings. Her parents’ feathers were huge and dark next to her rose-tinted white wing feather.
“Right. So, vulture feathers?” He looked at the donations cautiously.
“Condor, but part of the vulture family. I am just plain old king vulture.”
“Oh. Okay. Let me write that down.” He swallowed nervously and flicked a glance toward her.
She couldn’t understand his flap until she glanced down and saw that her top two buttons had come undone. The sapphire-blue lace of her bra was peeking out. She sat back and did one button up again.
Her transporter blushed and busied his gaze with the paperwork.
She registered a means of payment for the services and objects she would be needing at the Crossroads. A manicure was definitely in order.
“And you want space at one of the bed and breakfasts?”
“Yes, please. This is a new start, so I had better plan for how I want it to go. I will start it comfortable and taken care of, even if I have to pay.”
He blinked. “That is a very grim view of your future.”
“My parents won’t help me find a mate because I am a different breed of vulture than they are. The Mayan worship of my kind doesn’t matter; a history of respect in the wild doesn’t matter. My kind eat first at every carcass. That doesn’t matter.”
His earlier interest faded rapidly. “Vulture. Right. Well, we are all set. The transport window will be here in three hours. You have time to get a coffee downstairs if you like.”
She nodded. “Yes, just be here when I come back. Three hours?”
“Be here in two and a half.”
Molly nodded, picked up her purse and left her bag in the transporter’s office. She trotted downstairs and got a latte, sitting on a comfortable chair in the corner and watching the clock.
She was sure that this was the right thing to do.
When she was eight, her family had gathered around, her younger sisters watching with wide eyes because their turn would come soon enough. They had stood out in the backyard and Molly’s first change had washed through her. She had moved the blanket off her body with her head and stepped out, flapping to gain the first of the roosting posts.
The shock and horror in her parents’ eyes had seared her, and she had shifted back to human as quickly as she could. She begged her parents to make her like them, but the die was cast, she was similar but different. She had broken the family history for breeding true, and to her surprise, her parents blamed her for it.
The rest of her life consisted of being hidden from the other condor families as well as the other avian. She had asked her parents to find her a mate when she was a teen, but they told her it wasn’t done in today’s day and age. When Celeste wanted a mate, she had one in four months. Sissy had bagged one in two.
Oddly enough, she had not been invited to any of the dinners where her sisters met their matches. The hurt had grown until it was all that she could think of whenever she saw her family, their name or the teahouse.
They could have asked her to go at any time, but she was useful and you never discarded something useful.
With her time up, she grabbed her purse and headed back to the transporter office. It was time to seek out her own destiny, even if she had to go three districts from her own to find a transporter who would do it.
He was ready for her, so she grabbed her bag and stepped into the circle on his floor. There was a flash, and she was on her way to the Crossroads, the first step in a new life.
Damon Suel finished his report for the Shifter Council, and he rubbed his face.
His sister poked her head around the corner. “Are you ready for the party?”
He snorted. “No, and damned no. Why does Aunt Lea insist on them?”
“Because she is trying to get you into a courtship. She wants you to have children and sooner is better than later.”
“I am occupied with council business.”
“And that business will still be there when you finish meeting the young ladies she has rounded up for you tonight. Come on. Be a pal.” Deane grinned.
“Fine, but I am not promising anything.”
She straightened his shirt and handed him his jacket. “I don’t look for promises; I just hope you will try.”
He grimaced and followed her downstairs to meet the families gathered for introduction to him. Being the Avian Councillor, he was always in demand at events, and now that his aunt had put him on the marriage market, he was trapped.
Damon needed to find a way out of the endless rounds of courtship and polite chatter. If only there was a way to skip all the ritual and just find the woman for him…
His phone buzzed in his pocket and he excused himself from the conversation with the young woman looking up at him with worshipful blue eyes.
With a nod to his sister, he escaped upstairs to his office and checked his phone. There was a number from the coast, and it was apparently a matter of urgency.
He picked up the phone and went to work.
An hour later, he had the details he needed. A woman had run away from her family and gone to the Crossroads without authorization. Her family wanted her back before she met someone and made a foolish choice. Damon understood. Family was everything and they wanted their daughter safe.
Damon had a transporter coming to his home and he would be sent to the Crossroads in a matter of an hour or so. He really should tell his aunt so she could rearrange his appointments for the following few days.
Damon went to his room and started packing.
Deane came in and raised a brow. “Are we planning on jumping out a window?”
“No. We have to go to the Crossroads to retrieve a runaway. A transporter will be here within the hour. I am going and I will be there as long as it takes.”
Aunt Lea came in and nodded. “Good. I don’t care how you find a mate; just start looking. I will postpone your appointments.”
“Thanks, Auntie.” He beamed.
She sighed and shook her head. “You are incorrigible, Councillor Suel.”
“I do try. Now, please pass on my regrets to the flock of available women you have assembled. Duty calls.” He knew he was being too cheerful and that he would pay for it later, but he didn’t care.
The apprentice that showed up at his house was nervous, but when they went into the backyard, he relaxed and quickly cast the spell that would create a travelling link to the Crossroads.
As a councillor, he had the right to retrieve a member of the creatures under his domain.
He had been the Avian Councillor for two months, and he had never been busier. He had to admit, this was an escape as much as a retrieval mission.
The guardians of the Crossroads were waiting for him. “Hello, Councillor Suel.”
“Call me, Damon, please.”
“Damon, I am Tony, this is Teal. The woman you are looking for came in yesterday, but it was late, so I believe that she remained at the Open Heart.”
Teal gave him a narrow-eyed look. “You have the right to retrieve her, but if ever there was a woman who needed the Crossroads, it is she.”
Damon scowled. “What? Her family said—”
“What was necessary to get you moving. Families do that all the time. They attempt to manipulate the way things work when someone is here. The truth of the matter is that this is outside the Shifter Council’s domain. Destiny rules here. Get used to it.”
He straightened his shoulders. “Where can I drop my bag?”
Tony took over while Teal stalked to the side and grabbed a charm. She stomped back to him and tied the charm on his wrist. “This will pay for everything at the Crossroads, including your room.”
Tony held up a document. “Come on; Teebie has room for you so you can stay at the same place that your target is. She is nearly full, but there was room at the Open Heart for one more.”
Damon went with the guardian and looked around at the dimensional bubble built for the express purpose of matching hard-to-match shifters.
Once they were a good distance from the Meditation Centre, Damon asked, “Why is your mate so hostile toward me?”
“She is protective of the women who come here with hollow souls. The woman you seek was such a one, but she is fighting to find herself and she is starting here. Speak politely of her when you ask for her whereabouts. She demands respect, but we guess that she has not received it.”
Damon was getting curious. He had met Edgar Wexler’s two daughters at his appointment but was unaware of the third. He had guessed that she was just legal, but based on the skewed information he was getting now, that was not the case.
He minded his manners when he met the djinn who ran the Open Heart. She directed him to his room, and when he had dropped off his bag, she offered him coffee.
He settled across from her. “Good afternoon?”
“Yes. The time shift is harder for those who don’t come on the schedule. So, are you seeking your true mate? Teal and Tony didn’t say.” Teebie poured his coffee and smiled.
Damon sighed. “You know already.”
The djinn shrugged. “Of course. Your image was all over the Shifter Council notifications two months ago. I just need to know who you are looking for. You have been dodging matrimony for years. I don’t see you suddenly changing your mind now.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You really do pay attention.”
“It’s my job.”
“I am looking for one of your guests. Her last name is Wexler, and I believe her first name is Agathe.”
Teebie sipped at her coffee and pushed a cookie toward him. “Are you sure of that?”
“Sure of what?”
“Her name. I don’t have anyone by that name under my roof, but if her parents reported her, they would have used her registered name. That would have been her birth name. Folks use nicknames all the time.”
Damon leaned back and drank from the best cup of coffee he had had in a decade. “You are saying that I have to find her on my own.”
Teebie shrugged. “Since you are not sure who you are looking for, I am not sure who you are looking for.”
When he finished his coffee, the cup and the rest of the items on the table disappeared.
Teebie smiled, “The best way to find her is to get up and go looking.”
It was an order and a dismissal delivered with a smile. Damon got to his feet and took off his jacket, hanging it in the hall. He rolled up his cuffs and headed out into the Crossroads to find the woman that wasn’t nearly as missing as she had been two hours ago.
* * * *
Molly smiled at the deep pink of her fingernails. “Thank you, Stephyn.”
Stephyn winked. “It figures that my sister wants to run the salon and then she gets pregnant. I am glad you enjoyed it though. It has been a while since I got to do a full manicure. If you chip while you are here, come on back.”
“Can I get a pedicure, too?” She grinned. “Later I mean.”
“Of course. Come in whenever you like. There is always someone here.”
She got to her feet and swiped her charm across the pay stone. With her arms held up like a surgeon’s, she left the nail salon and headed over to the bar. Wrapping her hands around a drink would keep them out of trouble.
Molly smiled at Spike and took a seat at the bar. She sipped at a blended margarita and watched the bar slowly begin to fill.
She had to admit she enjoyed the organization of the Crossed Star. They only served drinks and all food had to be provided by the café or the restaurant on either side of them. The music and alcohol were the centrepiece of the Crossroads. Even the locals drifted in to relax and unwind.
Molly watched those who were as new as she was and counted the men and the women. There was currently a higher level of women but that could change tomorrow.
Spike paused. “Are you ready to jump in today?”
“I think one more day of observation to get used to the rhythm might be nice.”
Molly grinned. “Thank you.”
“Well, I think you might have to reassess your solitary plans. That guy who just came in is eyeing you.”
Surprised, Molly looked over at the newcomer who was indeed focussing on her. “He looks familiar.”
Spike was casually wiping the counter. “Oh? Maybe an old flame?”
She blinked and swallowed. “I just remembered where I saw him. This isn’t going to be good.”
She had never imagined that her family would send their councillor after her. How had they gotten him to agree to retrieve her? There wasn’t a legitimate reason by any stretch of the imagination.
She sipped cautiously at her drink while he made his way through the clump of females. To her amusement, he jumped a few times as the women got a little grabby.
Spike tapped her hand. “They seem to have distracted him, so if you wanted to make your strategic retreat, this might be a good time.”
Molly knew a good idea when she heard one. She left her drink and slipped off the stool, heading for the door. It was time for a meal anyway. That drink had gone straight to her head.
With one glance back at the grope-a-thon going on in the centre of the bar, she slipped out into the sunset and down to the café. She couldn’t dodge him forever, but tonight was a good start.
Damon looked around and grimaced. She was gone. Platinum hair and eyes so blue they were almost violet. He had felt her gaze on him and been stunned into returning the stare.
He pried the hands off his body and pushed through the crowd of women gathered around him. He was not sure if it was the striking features that his parents had passed to him or the power, but these women were taking measurements of his body that would have made his doctor blush.
“Ladies, please! I just arrived. I am sure that it will be easier to get to know you one by one.” He squeezed through the crowd, wincing at the grip one of the women had on his ass. He pried her hand away and moved to the bar.
The woman tending bar moved over to him and asked him, “What can I get for you?”
“Do you know where that woman went?”
The bartender winked, “Which woman? You seem to have your pick.”
“The woman you were speaking to when I came in. She had pale blonde hair, violet eyes, and she bit her lip twice while you were speaking.”
“Oh, she left.”
The bartender moved down to get drinks for some of the new arrivals, and when she returned, she said, “Now, what can I get you?”
“A beer. Whatever is closest to you.”
She nodded and pulled him an amber ale.
He waited until the rush faded and finally the bartender drifted back toward him. She was wearing a silver band that marked her as a married inhabitant of the Crossroads.
He had put aside his search for the Wexler woman for the search for the woman with violet eyes. She looked familiar but he couldn’t place her name.
The bartender grinned. “You haven’t moved. I thought you would have been wading through your admirers.”
“I am not interested in the women who chase me.” He grimaced. “I am never sure of their motivations.”
“That was frank.”
“Something tells me that if I hide something from you, it will come to bite me in the ass at a later time.”
The woman put glasses away with a smile. “You obviously wouldn’t be surprised at how often I am called on to give advice on which men are keepers and which are not quite right. I am Spike, by the way.”
“Damon. Pleased to meet you.” He shook her hand. She was fine-boned and there was the prickle of power when he touched her hand.
The notice he had gotten in his email suddenly made sense. “You are a recent permanent addition here.”
She nodded. “Yup. And you are on the Shifter Council.”
He jolted. “How did you know that?”
“A big bird told me. My husband is a swan, and he mentioned you had made urgent arrangements to come here. Who are you looking for again?”
He blinked. “A young woman ran away from her family, and they wanted me to bring her home before she finds a mate. I haven’t seen her yet.”
Spike kept tidying things. “What does she look like?”
“If she looks like the rest of her family, she has dark blonde hair and amber eyes. They didn’t give me a physical description, just a name and a lot of backstory.”
“And yet you charged in here looking for a woman you couldn’t identify?” Spike raised one brow.
He grinned. “I was eager to dodge a party at home. Since I have gotten the council position, my family has been putting on the pressure to mate.”
“So, the woman you saw at the bar?”
“Was striking and I am eager to find her again.” It went deeper than that. His whole body had rippled with shock and arousal from the moment he saw her. His skin ached, his cock throbbed and then she had disappeared.
Spike smiled, “Try the café. She looked a little hungry when she left.”
He grinned. “Thank you for your assistance.”
“Remember that sentiment. Off you go now.”
She waved him off and he headed to the café.
Sure enough, the woman with the platinum hair was just leaving. Her hair swung down over her shoulder and swayed across the centre of her back. It drew his gaze to the curve of her hips and ass.
He stepped forward and said, “Excuse me.”
She turned and froze with a prey-meeting-predator expression. “Oh, hell.”
* * * *
Molly looked up at the man she had hoped to avoid. He was prettier than he had seemed from across the room. Strong jaw, elegant nose and eyes with lashes so thick she was jealous. His wide shoulders and thick arms weren’t bad either.
“I mean, hello.”
He was extending his hand to her, and she shook it. “My name is Damon. I am pleased to meet you. May I walk you somewhere?”
She paused. “Molly. My name is Molly.”
His smile extended to the corners of his eyes. He lifted her hand and kissed it. “Definitely pleased to meet you, Molly.”
Molly didn’t see any intense recognition or hostility, so she considered her options. “I was going for a walk to the shifters’ field. You can come with me if you like.”
“I just arrived. A tour would be nice.” He offered her his arm.
She blushed and slipped her hand under his elbow and rested her palm on his forearm. “It’s this way.”
As they started to walk, he asked her, “Have you been here long?”
She shook her head. “No. Not long.”
“Have you met anyone likely?”
Molly knew what he meant. “There are a few that I have met, but I am not rushing into things.”
“I thought everyone at the Crossroads was eager to find a mate.” He seemed genuinely curious.
“I am eager; I am just not stupid. Having decisions made for me is something I have decided I am tired of. I don’t care if a man wants me; I have to want him back.” She said it with as much determination as she could muster.
She could feel the change in his posture as he stared down at her. Molly pretended that she was focussed on their path, but she was watching him closely.
“What if a man makes you want him?”
“Then, he is a bully or I was fooling myself. It will have to be figured out later.” Molly shrugged. “It is another reason for not rushing into something.”
They arrived at the field where some wolves were returning from a run, rubbing together and showing obvious intimate affection.
Molly cleared her throat. “This is where folks come to let their beasts out. For some folk, it is the only place that they have been completely free in years.”
“Have you already let your beast out?”
She nodded. “I went out last night.”
He was hinting around without asking what her inner creature was, but if he hadn’t figured it out, she wasn’t going to tell him.
Knowing her parents, they had given him her registered name and the fake beast they had assigned to her. She was Agathe Wexler and an Andean condor on her registration. Her family stopped using the family name of Agathe after that first shift. Now, she was Molly, but they wouldn’t have told him that. They were counting on him not asking questions, but they had to give him some clues. It was just Molly’s luck that few folk at the Crossroads bothered with last names. Tony, Teal and Teebie were the only ones with her registration information, and they wouldn’t tell on her unless her life was in danger.
“So, was the environment welcoming?”
He was trying not to be rude, but he was skating on the edge of propriety.
Molly smiled. “It was. The air was much the same as it is tonight. There were less people around though.”
Molly sighed. “Would you care to see anything else?”
“Would you join me for dinner?”
She blinked. “Um, I have already eaten, but I could have dessert if you want company.”
“Back to the café?”
Molly turned him around, and they walked back to the centre of the purpose-built town.
When they were in a booth at the café, she ordered some pie and coffee, leaning in to ask him, “So, what brings you to the Crossroads? You don’t seem to be in the same mindset as the others.”
He sighed. “It is work. I am looking for an associate’s daughter. She came here earlier in the week and hasn’t returned to her family yet.”
Molly sat back, “Perhaps she hasn’t found her mate yet.”
“That is what I am here to stop. From what I am told, she is too young to seek a mate yet.”
Molly blinked. “Too young?”
“Yes, he said that they hadn’t yet introduced her to society and since his other two daughters are married and engaged respectively… If she hasn’t been out in their circles, she must be younger than the twenty-one-year-old.”
She seethed inwardly before she pasted a bland smile on her face.
He finally asked her, “What do you do in the outside world?”
Molly smiled shyly. “I am a baker. I used to work for my family, but when I go back, I am going to have to start over.”
Damon sat back as his meal arrived. He attacked the food with good appetite. When he came up for air, he asked, “Would you want to live near your family?”
“My mate would become my family. My parents support that.” She stuck to the truth. Her finding a home far away from them would delight her parents.
“That is very understanding of them.”
She smiled weakly and leaned back as the waitress brought her pie.
“So, Damon, what do you do for a living?”
He shrugged. “I have recently gotten the job in the council. I live in my family home with my sister and aunt. My parents travel widely and are experiencing the cuisines of the world.”
She blinked and fought her grin. For vultures, international cuisine meant something else entirely. She kept her head down and ate her lemon pie with a smile playing around her lips.
Damon enjoyed the remainder of their meal together. Molly didn’t speak much, but her eyes were so expressive, she didn’t have to. Everything that she felt was in those eyes and it was amazing to watch.
“Can I walk you back to where you are staying?”
She smiled and pushed her second pie plate away. “You may have to carry me.”
He tried not to shift as blood pulsed in his groin at the image in his mind of her in his arms with nothing between them. He cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t mind that.”
A wave of red started below her dress and moved up her chest until her face was scarlet. Her eyes wouldn’t meet his gaze as she shifted in her seat. After all the women groping him from neck to knees, her modesty was refreshing.
He propped his chin on his fist and smiled. “So, where are you staying?”
“The Open Heart.”
He grinned. “Me too. Shall we?”
Her skin had been cooling, but it pinked violently when she looked at him.
Her voice was a husky whisper. “I suppose we should both call it a day.”
He got to his feet, and when she slipped her pale hand against his, he felt a surge of power that had everything to do with finding the woman of his dreams. With her hesitancy, how long would it take to convince her to take his word that they were meant for each other?
He was hoping it would be less than two days, because his brain was going to suffer if it didn’t get blood soon.
* * * *
The moment she put her skin against his, the echo of that touch ripped through her body. Her nipples hardened, thighs clenched and her skin actually ached for more of the contact.
When his fingers tightened around hers, she felt another twinge of the touch inside her sex.
She stood up and watched as he paid for her desserts and his dinner before he tucked her hand around his arm again and walked with her far more slowly than the night traffic called for. There were a few couples on the street and nothing else.
It felt like a warm night in the south, without the bugs.
Molly heard the crunch of the gravel under her shoes, and along with his, it was the only sound she could register. The rest of the world had fallen away. It was just the two of them.
Teebie had told her that many of the guests found their matches within a matter of hours. Others took days and very few even weeks.
Why did it seem that Molly was falling for the one man she should really stay away from?
They meandered back to the Open Heart with a lack of concern for the time of night. It could have been early evening or predawn, it didn’t matter. They were in a world of their own.
On the porch of the bed and breakfast, Damon pulled her to a halt.
He turned her to face him, and he asked, “Can I kiss you?”
She bit her lip and nodded agreement.
Molly felt the movement of air from his breath, the heat from his lips and then he pressed his mouth to hers in a slow and cautious meeting.
Kept apart from shifters her entire life, she had no idea of the tide of lust that his kiss woke in her. She shuddered in his grip and held herself still with intense focus and self-control.
When he stroked her lips with his tongue and slipped inside to taste her, she let her control crack as she slid her hands up his chest to lock behind his head.
She held his lips to hers as the slow kiss continued until her panties were damp and her nipples ached. He tried to pull back, but she held him for a moment before allowing him to retreat.
Her hands shook, her body was vibrating with tension and she was sure that her pupils had dilated until her eyes were black. Her tepid relations with humans were nothing compared to Damon’s kiss. She was more aroused than she had ever been, and she still had all of her clothing on.
When he released her, she staggered back before he caught her.
“I am fine.”
She straightened and brushed at her dress before opening the door to their home away from home.
He moved to hold the door for her, but she was mentally reinforcing her thighs with steel to make it up the stairs to her bedroom.
At the landing, she turned and said, “Good night, Damon. May you find what you seek.”
She held onto her dignity and made into to her bedroom before she collapsed to her knees.
He was going to find out who she was and he was going to insist on taking her home. She would be nothing and no one again. That was something she couldn’t bear to happen.
She wasn’t going back.
Her body refused to calm, so Molly got up at three in the morning, put on the gossamer robe she picked up in her first hour at the Crossroads and she crept out of her bedroom to go in search of hot cocoa or warm milk.
She had just rounded the landing when she heard the rattle of dishes. Damon was on the lower stairs and climbing toward her.
He paused when he saw her. “Molly. Can’t sleep?”
She bit her lip and shook her head.
“Teebie made me a pot of hot chocolate. She insisted that I take the whole tray, and now, I think I know why. Shall we?”
He moved past her and into a room beyond hers with an open door. She followed him, and he set the tray on a table near two chairs.
“Come in, Molly. I will leave the door open if you are nervous.”
She blushed and closed it. “I don’t want to wake anyone else.”
“So, what is keeping you awake?” He expertly poured two cups of hot cocoa and handed her one with marshmallows arranged into a happy face.
She smiled into the grinning cup. “Truth?”
“Truth is easier.” He blew into his cup, took a seat and looked at her over the porcelain edge.
“I have never kissed a shifter before. My body is still humming with eager energy.”
He blinked. “Never?”
She shook her head and sipped at the melted marshmallow.
“How is that possible if your family was around? They should have made sure that you met and mingled with shifters of your own age.”
She shrugged, unsure of how far to go into detail. “Should have. Didn’t. I had no idea that it was such an electrifying experience.”
His smile was slow. “I thought so, too, and I do have basis for comparison. Our connection is extraordinary. It will grow stronger the longer we are together.”
Molly cocked her head. “How do you know?”
“My parents have a similar bond. They build on each other’s strengths and together are unstoppable.”
Surprising herself, she said, “It sounds nice.”
“It is the connection that my sister is hunting for, but she says she won’t find a mate until I do.”
“Because she doesn’t want me living alone, and when she finds her mate, she will leave. She would worry.”
Molly nodded and blew into her cup again. “I suppose I could understand that.”
He settled back in the chair, and for the first time, she realized that he was wearing some silken pajama bottoms and nothing else. He was perfectly proportioned, a statue made flesh.
. There went her hormones again.
She quickly finished the hot cocoa, swallowing and hoping that the sensitivity would fade by the morning. “Thank you for the cocoa. I should go now.”
She got up with the robe fluttering around her.
Damon moved to block her. “Stay, please.”
She quivered and her body screamed a silent
Her mind mulled it over and admitted that she had not felt that way about any of the other males she had met and danced with.
Opening and closing her hands, she pressed them to his chest and slid them upward, over and around his shoulders before reversing direction and stroking across his abs and down to the waistband of his pajamas.
Damon pressed his hands over hers. “You don’t have to do anything.”
She blinked. “But I can, right?”
“Of course, but there is no obligation.” His fingers wound with hers, and he moved closer, holding her hands at the small of her back.
With her hands pinned and her breasts now pressed against his chest, Molly felt awkward, and a moment later, his erection prodded her with his clothing and hers a feeble barrier to the flexing heat.
He held both of her hands with one of his and used the free hand to stroke her neck.
She gave into reflex and stretched her neck to one side, preening a little.
He paused for a moment, and then, he leaned in, pressing his lips to the vulnerable flesh of her neck.
She shivered wildly in his arms, and she felt Damon’s lips curve in a smile.
He moved and took her with him, backing her toward the bed. He eased her down on the bedding and leaned over her, his thighs parting her own.
Molly lifted her lips to his when he kissed her and welcomed the thrust and slide of his tongue against her own.
She clutched his shoulders, her senses delighting in the taut texture of his skin. She let her hands roam over his shoulders, chest, the ridge of his back and into the silky, dark texture of his hair.
When she got her nerve up, she slipped a hand between them and caressed the waistband of his trousers, stroking her fingers lightly over the flexing tent of his erection. She moved her hand and slipped her fingers under the band, easing it down and out until Damon’s cock sprang free.
While she was doing this, Damon was holding perfectly still, but the moment that his cock was out, he began to move.
His fingers dragged her silky nightdress and robe up and out of the way, exposing her sex and the wet heat that had kept her up all night. He groaned when his fingers slicked the moment that they touched her.
She was blushing, but it was an honest response.
He shifted and set his cock against her. With a few short thrusts, he slid in, and he fit as perfectly as she knew he would. She sighed as he began to rock and slide inside her.
Her breasts ached, so she reached up and squeezed them, pinching her nipples through the lace and silk of her nightwear.
She felt Damon shudder over and inside her. He moved faster and faster against her until he groaned, jerking his hips tight to hers while his eyes went blind.
Molly resigned herself to a long night of tension when Damon shifted and slid a hand between them, stroking her clit in a gradually faster spiral.
Her breath came faster, and she squeezed her breasts again.
Damon leaned down and took one nipple in his mouth, suckling her through the fabric. He did the same for the other side while his finger continued its circling with more and more pressure.
She heard a groan from her own throat, and her hips jerked against his hand. He was still inside her, and the moment that her climax struck, he groaned again as her channel gripped him with pulsing tension.
Damon continued to circle her clit, slow and light now, until she slumped back into the sheets with satisfaction.
He pulled out of her body and settled on the bed, cuddling her against him.
Molly’s mind was spinning with the urge to run and lock her door against what had just roared through her. If any man on the earth was her mate, it was the man next to her. How was she supposed to deal with that?
She had come to the Crossroads with the idea of finding a man she wanted and who wanted her in return. This level of attachment, of her soul screaming in delight with every touch of his hand, was far beyond what she had wanted.
It was like the song said,
You can’t always get what you want.
First thing in the morning, Molly was packed and ready to leave. She just wanted one more flight and she would be on her way.