We got back to Muddy River half an hour before we were supposed to be at Meda’s for supper. Brown rushed home to help her with any final chores. Raven and I ran upstairs to take quick showers and change. When my demon walked out of the bathroom with only a towel draped around him, I got distracted. Muscles rippled as he reached for his clothes. All black, of course. He caught me watching and shook his head.
“Later, and I’ll make it worth the wait.”
Yes, he would. The man had skills. But just to make sure the mood didn’t skitter away, I slipped into a sundress and sandals and let my hair tumble around my shoulders. I even took extra care with my makeup. He pulled me in for a lingering kiss.
“Now you’re just trying to tease me. And it works.”
I laughed. “Fair is fair. You’re wearing a silk shirt and your black slacks are snug.” His thigh muscles bulged against the sleek fabric.
“Then we’re even. We’ll tempt each other.”
I glanced at the clock and sighed. Staying away from Raven was like abstaining from my favorite chocolates. But I could indulge later, I told myself. Until I was sated.
He patted my fanny on the way downstairs. “I never get tired of you, Hester Wand.”
I leaned into him as we walked to his Lamborghini. Claws came running. He enjoyed visiting Meda’s house. “Did you get tired of your other women?”
He cocked a dark eyebrow. “That’s a loaded question. No matter how I answer, I’m in trouble. But even if I stayed with them a while, I never had the desire to mate with them.”
“Good enough.” After all, how could I complain? I’d married a mortal knight and had stayed with him until he was killed in battle. Losing someone you loved was painful. I’d decided never to become that vulnerable again. Until I met Raven. We’d both lived a long, long time. Hopefully, we’d live a lot longer. But the idea of spending the rest of my days with him excited me.
For once, he didn’t race through town. I could actually look out the window and enjoy the scenery we passed. The end of July was approaching, but grass was still vibrant green. Outside of town, grass was drying out, losing its vitality, but magic vibrating in the air kept our plants healthy and strong. As we followed the river, I could hear a soft, lyrical song, mesmerizing in its rising and falling notes. Our local Siren must be in a happy mood. The citizens of Muddy River were immune to her song. I’d concocted a potion to keep us safe when she sang, but Hecate help anyone who wasn’t and heard it.
Raven grinned. “Melodia’s husband must have made it home from his trip.”
She’d married a vampire, Boaz, who was a financial advisor. He could usually work from home but had to travel occasionally. Their daughter was a beautiful double threat. She could sing and mesmerize and grow fangs and glamour.
I shook my head. “That family has some serious magic. It’s a good thing they’re so happy here.”
Raven turned onto Amulet Avenue and took it to Solstice Street. Meda’s house and barn sat between the back of Sugi and Noira’s coffee shop and a BBQ restaurant that Chloe’s husband—a bear shifter—owned. Everything there was take-out. He only opened for business for dinner hours. Tonight, as we pulled into Meda’s drive, the aroma of BBQ ribs made my mouth water.
Raven stopped to sniff the air, too. “If I lived next door to the coffee shop’s pastries and Archer’s take-out, I’d be hungry all the time.
Brown stepped on the front porch to wave us into the house. “Hey, guys! We’re ready to eat.”
When we joined everyone in the dining room, I was glad I’d taken extra time to glam up. Meda wore a low scoop neck top and a short skirt, showing off her curves. And Syn, in a spaghetti strap dress, practically glowed. Gray looked especially happy, too. Raven and I exchanged a glance. Those two enjoyed spending time together.
Meda had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as she carried two serving platters to the table. One was piled with ribs and the other with barbecued chicken from Archer’s next door.
I laughed. “We stopped to smell his sauce before we came in your house. This is perfect.”
No one could beat Archer’s secret recipe sauce. He competed in a few BBQ cook-offs every summer and always won.
“I made the rest of the meal,” she told us. She served corn on the cob, coleslaw, and cornbread.
Once we filled our plates, Gray asked, “What did you find out on your trip today?”
When Raven explained about the vampire bar, Gray shook his head. He leveled a look at us. “He’s going to come after you, you know. It’s just a matter of time.”
“Let him.” Raven reached for cornbread and spread butter on it.
Syn frowned and shook her head. “You’re not taking this seriously enough. He won’t come alone.”
“Good, the more rogues he brings, the fewer there’ll be in the world.”
Gray gave an exasperated sigh. “He won’t hire beginners. He knows what he’s up against. He’ll come prepared.”
“That’s what we’re counting on. Between the four of us,” Raven motioned to me, Brown, and Meda, “they’d better be experienced. I’m going to make sure people at the market tomorrow know that Hester and I are going to the lake on Monday.”
I blinked in surprise. That’s the first I’d heard about it. “Why spread the word at the market? Our customers don’t even know about Cane.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. If I were Cane, after I sent my first two mercenaries who turned and ran, I’d send a weaker supernatural to keep his eyes and ears open, to see when we were leaving Muddy River and traveling alone.”
“You mean a spy?” I’d never stopped to consider that. We opened the gates to anyone and everyone at the market, mortals and visiting supernaturals together. I didn’t worry about it. We traveled to and from the market in a caravan most times. A caravan full of powerful witches, shifters, and Fae. It never occurred to me someone could come just to listen to our small talk and pass it on.
Gray reached for another half-slab of ribs. “I made a few phone calls today. Talked to old friends all over the country. Found out a few things about your Cane.”
“Such as?” Brown leaned his elbows on the table, listening intently to his dad.
“His mother was half-succubus, but his dad was a full-blooded incubus. When an incubus mates with a woman, their offspring’s magic…”
“Is made stronger,” Raven said. “So Cane is almost double the strength of most incubi.”
Gray nodded and went on. “At sixteen, his dad left on a short trip but never returned. Cane went to track him down, to find out what happened. He learned that his dad got in a fight with a vampire, and the vampire killed him. Cane went to his dad’s grave before returning home and kicked the headstone. He blamed his father for being stupid and getting himself killed. A few months later, his mother hooked up with a mortal. The new guy had no use for Cane, and soon after that, Cane left home and went into law enforcement. He dedicated himself to tracking down supernaturals who broke our laws.”
“Until he went sour on everything he believed in.” Raven scraped a hand threw his dark hair. A habit he did when he was frustrated. “Did anyone you talked to know how many rogues he has on his payroll?”
“As many he needs,” Gray said. “He hires mercenaries for temporary jobs. He’ll break the bank to get rid of you.”
Brown let out a deep breath. “It’s going to take a lot of power to fight them.”
“We’ll put out the word,” I said. “Maybe we’ll get some allies.”
“But you think it’s going to go down on Monday?” Meda asked.
“I hope so. I’d rather face them near our lake, away from town.” Raven stood to clear dirty dishes and carry them to Meda’s sink. The guy was a great guest. “I want this over with.”
Meda and Brown cleared the rest of the table. Then Meda went to the refrigerator and brought out a creamy dessert. “The Next Best Thing to Robert Redford,” she said with a smile. “If we’re going to tempt death, we might as well enjoy ourselves first.”