“That man could f**k a gal to a screaming orgasm. Guaranteed,” Richie’s wife said breathlessly to her cousin.
“Where do I sign up?”
The diner was closed to customers, yet filled to capacity with Richard Bowes’s family and friends. Children manned the soft-serve machine, making shakes, while the men cooked and told bawdy jokes in the kitchen. Frank Sinatra sang holiday songs through the speakers, and laughter filled the air with the joy of the season.
Pausing at the corner, the hunk outside held out both arms, and a lithe black cat that had not been visible from the window booths jumped agilely into his embrace. It had been snowing hard earlier and featherlight flakes still drifted in the random gusts, yet the animal’s luxurious ebony coat was unmarred by the weather. The man, too, did not appear to be wet or cold.
He held the feline with reverence, his fingers rubbing behind its ears and stroking down its arching spine. It climbed his chest and looked over his shoulder, emerald green eyes staring back at the diner occupants. Nuzzling the top of its head against his cheek, the cat seemed to smile smugly at the coveting gazes from women in the diner.
There wasn’t a single Bowes female who didn’t wish to be that cat.
For a long moment, the flashing Christmas lights in the windows cast rainbow hues on glossy fur and rich locks, creating a unique yet beautiful holiday scene. Then the man continued on.
He crossed the street and rounded a corner, disappearing.
Max Westin growled softly at the feel of a rough feline tongue stroking rhythmically across the sensitive skin behind his ear.
“Kitten . . . ,” he warned.
You’re delicious, Victoria purred in his mind.
“I can see why upper-level warlocks don’t keep Familiars.” He held her closer to ease the sting of his words. “You’re a distraction.”
I’m necessary, she retorted, laughing. You couldn’t live without me.
He didn’t reply; they both knew it was true. He loved her with a deep, saturating abandon and relished the bond they shared as warlock and Familiar. She was with him every moment, her thoughts and emotions melding with his, her power augmenting his. Even when physical distance separated them, they were always together. He couldn’t breathe without her anymore. She was a part of him, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Once a Hunter for the Council that ruled over all “magickind,” he had been assigned only the most difficult of tasks—vanquishing those who had crossed over into black magic and could not be saved. He had been groomed to join the Council, an honor bestowed so rarely that few remembered the last time such a promotion had occurred.
Then, They’d tasked him with one last assignment—collar or kill Victoria St. John, a Familiar driven feral by grief over the loss of her warlock.
Max would never forget his first sighting of her and how powerfully she’d affected him. Slender and long-legged, with green sloe eyes and cropped black hair, she had the inherent sensuality of a cat and the body of a woman built for sex.
A deeply rooted part of him had known she belonged to him from the moment they met. Some part of her had known it, too, yet they’d played a cat-and-mouse game until it could not be played any longer. Until the Council stepped in and forced them to make a choice—the Council’s dictates or each other.
Neither of them had hesitated to choose their love, regardless of the penalty.
I feel them, she said, her throaty voice bereft of the teasing playfulness of a moment before.
The Triumvirate. They were responsible for the death of Victoria’s previous warlock, Darius. He, too, had been groomed for the Council, the last warlock so honored before Max had caught Their notice. Angered by Darius’s decision to pair with Victoria instead of accepting a Council seat, They had retaliated by sending Darius and Victoria after the Triumvirate alone.
Darius should have refused, knowing his death would be the inevitable outcome of such an uneven match. He should have fought to stay with Victoria, to protect her from the machinations of the Council.
That’s what Max would have done.
Yet you hunt them now, she murmured.
It was the promise he’d made to her when he claimed her for his own—her submission in return for his destruction of the Triumvirate. She had not asked it of him until he insisted, but it was a Master’s prerogative to ensure that his sub had what they needed to be happy. Victoria needed closure; he would give it to her.
I love you.
He felt the undeniable truth of her feelings deep in his soul. The shining brightness of Victoria’s love was so powerful that it kept the darkness inside him in the shadows where it belonged. Skirting the edges of black magic was perilous, because the dark side was seductive. If he didn’t have Victoria to anchor him, Max wasn’t sure what he would have become over the centuries.
“I love you, too, kitten.”
The snowfall picked up again, making it hard to see. The wind grew colder, blowing on the diagonal, pelting flurries at them from the side. They should be home, entangled naked before the fireplace, sweating from carnal exertion. Not shivering from a chill that came as much from the inside as the outside.
Shielding them in magic, Max kept them dry as they turned the street corner and then again into a trash-strewn alley. The sudden blizzard was a show of force from the Triumvirate, a reminder that the three brothers were forbiddingly powerful. It was two against three as it was, but the odds were less favorable than even that. The Triumvirate drew power from the Source of All Evil. Max and Victoria had only each other. When their resources were depleted, they would have no other recourse. The Council would not help them. They’d refused to sanction this battle, knowing it was what Max and Victoria wanted more than anything. When it came to holding grudges, the Council was in a class by itself.
Is it worth it?
He paused midstep, startled by her thought.
Victoria leaped down from his shoulder to the wet pavement. She altered form instantly, leaving her standing before him naked and endlessly alluring, her only adornment a black ribbon around her neck.
His collar. The sight of it and the knowledge of what it symbolized aroused him with violent alacrity.
“Gods, you’re beautiful,” he rasped, admiring the ripe, curvy perfection of her lithe body. With a snap of his fingers she was clothed from head to toe in formfitting black Lycra. Her figure was his to enjoy and no other’s.
When they met, she’d been too thin, a manifestation of neglect wrought by centuries spent without a Master to care for her. Familiars needed to be fed and groomed, stroked and indulged. They also needed discipline, and she’d had none, not even with Darius, who, despite his extraordinary power and skill, had been too flexible to control a Familiar as willful as Victoria St. John.