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By Crystal Jordan
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Crystal Jordan
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You look hot, baby."
A low wolf whistle pierced the air, and Selina turned away from the window where she was standing, her eyebrow arching high. The sight of a woman in a long, shimmery wedding gown and a leer on her face made her snort. Chloe Standish of the wealthy, influential Standish witch family was not your average bride. Chloe's best friend, Tess Jones, chortled as she walked out of the bathroom to join them in the big bedroom.
When Selina spoke, her tone was wry. "Thanks, you're going to make Merek jealous."
If anyone besides Merek had asked her to be in a wedding, she'd have laughed in his face. But the big warlock used to be her partner in the Seattle Police Department's Magickal Task Force. The years together meant she'd developed an unfortunate weak spot for the man. Which meant she was not only attending his wedding to a high-society bride, but she was in the wedding party. And wearing a damn dress. She hadn't worn a dress in at least a decade, and this thing was tight enough to count as a second skin. She had no idea how women wore shit like this on a daily basis, especially considering the high heels were killing her toes.
Uncomfortable was something of an understatement for the day. Her boss, her boss's boss, and his boss were all at the wedding. Along with every important Magickal law enforcement officer in the city, state, and country, the mayor, and several senators and congressmen who happened to be Magickals as well as elected officials. And they'd all be watching her shimmy up the aisle because the way she had to move in this getup couldn't be called a regular walk.
Good thing they'd never tapped her to go undercover as a hooker in a prostitution bust. She'd never have pulled it off. Then again, coy flirting had never been her forte. Either a man wanted her or he didn't. And she wanted him back or she didn't. End of story. No need to beat around the bush with stupid little mind games. Modern courtship was for the birds. Most of her lovers in the last few years were older Magickals like her, who'd been around the block a dozen times and didn't want to mess around with all this love and dating crap.
Even then, it had been many months since she'd bothered with sex. Too busy with work, but she'd gone through longer dry spells before, so she didn't worry about it. If she wanted some play, she could get it. Her hormones decided to give a sharp wail at that moment, telling her that they damn well wanted some play, even if the rest of her was wrapped up in police work.
The bride shrugged, her grin widening. "Merek knows I don't bat for the other team. But since he's a guy and that's how they are, I wouldn't put it past him to want to watch us together."
Selina rolled her eyes, but didn't deny that the other woman was probably right. Men. It didn't matter their species—Normal or Magickal—they were all the same. "That is both disturbing and typical, all at the same time."
Turning toward a floor-length mirror, Chloe checked her makeup one last time and straightened the little pillbox hat and short veil she wore. After her parents died, the witch had lived in her Aunt Millie's mansion in Upper Queen Anne. Selina was pretty sure the old woman had been around in the 1800s when the palatial Victorian-style home had been built. Mildred Standish was a mover and shaker in the Magickal community, representing the Witch Coven on the All-Magickal Council. Everyone knew her name and her fearsome reputation.
It felt more than a little odd to be standing in the woman's house, but everything about this day was designed to throw Selina off-kilter, so she ignored it and went to help Tess straighten the back of Chloe's dress.
Tess's long red hair fell forward to cover her face when she bent down. "I'm just glad Merek didn't add me to that little fantasy."
"Oh, he so would. Three hot chicks going at it for his entertainment? Or maybe just the two of you, since he's probably too possessive to share me." Chloe's hazel eyes sparkled as her reflection met Selina's gaze. "Men. Can't live with them, illegal to kill them."
"Mostly illegal." Selina winked.
"Yeah, damn. There's that whole having-a-badge thing."
She arched an eyebrow. "It has its trade-offs for the lousy hours and bad coffee."
"Cavalli"—Tess sneered the name, referring to her ex-boyfriend and current boss, and her eyes went wolfish, her werewolf fangs sliding down in sharp, deadly points—"installed a fancy espresso machine in the FBI office."
Heavy, awkward silence filled the room. None of them particularly cared to think about why Tess hated Luca Cavalli so much. Betrayal was an ugly thing. Tess had been Normal this time last year and totally in the dark about magic existing in the world. She'd been dating Luca, who was a vampire; was best friends with Chloe, a witch; and she'd gotten tangled up in a plot by werewolf terrorists to steal the formula Chloe was working on to control the worst effects of werewolves' fullmoon madness. During a fight for their lives, Tess had been bitten by a terrorist and barely survived the Change.
Somehow, Tess had gotten over the fact that Chloe had been lying to her for their entire friendship, but she hated Luca with the fire of a thousand suns. Then again, he was a vampire and she was a werewolf. The two didn't mix, so even if they still loved each other, there was nothing that could come of it.
Perhaps it was a mercy that Tess hated him.
In the end, there was nothing Chloe or Luca could have done to clue Tess in on magic before she'd been bitten. Magickals had strict secrecy laws. To reveal magic to a Normal without authorization was forbidden, and if you were a werewolf or a vampire and you turned a Normal into a Magickal without permission, it resulted in a death sentence. No questions asked. No appeal allowed.
It might seem harsh, but Selina had been around back when witch trials and vampire hunting had been fashionable. She'd watched good Magickals be murdered because people couldn't keep their mouths shut. So when the All-Magickal Council had enacted non-disclosure laws, Selina had fully supported them. Her job as a detective meant she helped ruthlessly enforce the rules and had very little sympathy for those who broke them. Did that make her a coldhearted bitch? Probably. She'd been called a lot worse. They didn't refer to her as an ice queen in the department for no reason. It mostly just amused her. She'd more than earned her considerable reputation.
"Cavalli loves his fancy coffee." Tess's jaw jutted, her face flushing with anger.
Remorse shaded Chloe's expression. As the person who'd kept the truth from her friend the longest, Chloe still had a lot of guilt over what had happened. She cleared her throat. "Your fangs are showing, hon. Tuck those back in, would you? Millie will kill you if you mess up the pictures."
Tess snorted, and the fangs retracted.
Delivering a final tweak to Chloe's dress, Selina tried to break some of the tension. "Does this espresso machine come with a barista? Because I don't deal with that thirty-seven-knobs-and-buttons shit. I like the put-in-the-grinds-and-pushone-button model."
"That's so passé." Chloe turned to face them, exaggerated disdain on her face. Her ebony hair was swept back from her forehead, and she looked like the kind of movie star who used to grace 1950s silver screens.
Selina waved a dismissive hand. "I'm a rebel. I kick it old-school." A peal of laughter spilled from the werewolf. "How old are you again?"
"About four hundred forty and change." Damn, that made her feel ancient. Then again, she was ancient by human standards.
Tess whistled. "I think that officially qualifies as 'farting dust old.' "
"Something like that." Selina cocked an eyebrow. "Which means I have more than enough magic to roast the fur off a werewolf."
The she-wolf winced. "Noted."
"I thought so." Selina smirked.
"Nice little elf." Tess reached out to delicately flick the point on Selina's ear.
She couldn't help a shudder as the sensation reverberated through her body. Elves' ears were incredibly sensitive, and she ducked away from further touch. At least the elven stereotype had been helped a bit with the Lord of the Rings movies. It was more Orlando Bloom and less Keebler's now.
The door to Chloe's room swung open and her Aunt Millie stepped inside. Magic radiated from the old woman, an unmistakable aura of power surrounding her. "It's time."
Chloe's chest rose as she drew in a deep breath, and the most radiant smile crossed her face. Selina had to look away. Gods, had she looked that happy on her own wedding day? Probably, but that was hundreds of years ago now. She could still see it so clearly in her mind. Some memories faded, but that day was locked in forever. The way the flowers had smelled, the soft dress against her skin, the way her little cousin Bess had squealed and clapped and danced in excitement. But Selina's young husband had died a few years later, and all that joy had crumbled. Pain stabbed in her chest at the thought of her loved ones, stolen away by time and Fate, until there was no one left. She shook herself, straightened her shoulders, and lifted her chin.
Damn, but she hated weddings and all the little reminders of the past they inevitably brought with them. Merek was lucky she liked him, or she never would have agreed to this. The ceremony couldn't be over soon enough, and then she could get to the part with the champagne. She shrugged the tautness out of her shoulders and forced a smile to her face.
Accepting the bouquet Tess held out, Selina smoothed her dress and wished it covered more flesh. The pale green gown was strapless, knee length, and tight enough to hug every curve on the way down. Tess wore a matching dress, but actually had the rack to pull it off. Chloe's dress was a white version of theirs, only instead of stopping at the knee, it flared out like a mermaid's tail all the way to the floor.
Sucking in a breath, Selina led the way out of the room. She ignored the fact that she was seconds away from a whole crowd of people turning to look at her. She hated being the center of attention. Give her the background any day—she'd leave the posturing and grandstanding to people like Millie. She strode down the stairs to the immense foyer. Double doors opened to the evening air. It was warmer than Seattle ever got at night, no doubt something Millie's magic had pulled off.
Huge white tents had been set up outside, the silk fabric sheer enough to see the stars overhead. Torches and subtle spotlights lit the yard with a romantic glow. The late hour was in deference to the vampires in attendance who couldn't handle the daylight hours without risk of torching in the sun. Her stomach clenched when she stepped out of the doors, and every single person twisted in their chair to look at the bridal party.
"Oh, fuck me," she groaned under her breath.
I heard that. Tess's telepathic voice floated through her mind, lilting with amusement. Of the Magickal races, only werewolves and vampires had the ability to project their thoughts.
"Damn werewolf hearing." But Selina smiled when she said it, trying not to trip over her pointy-toed shoes. She stepped off the front porch and down the rose petal–strewn path that led up the aisle and ended with the pastor, Merek, and his groomsmen.
She focused on them, rather than the hundreds of eyes locked on her. Merek looked happier than she'd ever seen him. He'd made the transition from the Seattle PD to the FBI Magickal Crimes Unit the year before, and the change seemed to suit him. Two other broad-shouldered males stood next to him, waiting for the women. Their tuxedos fit them to perfection.
On the far end was Luca Cavalli. Born in Italy, he looked like a tall, gorgeous, and elegant advertisement for Armani. Appearances were deceiving, however, because he wasn't just a pretty face. The vampire was legend in Magickal law enforcement. He ran the FBI's MCU, and he was the best there was. The only time she'd ever seen him lose his cool was the day Tess was mauled, Changed into a wolf, and effectively stolen from his life forever. In any sort of romantic capacity, anyway. Once she'd survived the Change, he'd managed to get her transferred from her position as a coroner for the Normal side of the FBI and over to the Magickal side, which threw her into his path more often than not.
Alex Nemov was the best man, and Chloe's orphaned godson. She and Merek had recently finalized adopting the teenaged werewolf. Alex's mother had died when he was a child, and his father had been killed by the same terrorists that had turned Tess into a wolf.
This night was a step into a new life for Merek's little family, and Selina was happy for them. She just wished she could be an anonymous guest rather than walking down the aisle in this painted-on dress. She couldn't remember ever being so conscious of so many sets of eyes on her at once. She was used to standing back and observing others, investigating, asking questions, not being thrust in the limelight with nothing better to do than smile pretty for the cameras people aimed at her.
She knew the moment Chloe came into view, because Merek's eyes lit up and his jaw sagged a bit. A grin curled her lips. Yeah, that was exactly how a groom should look when he saw his bride in her wedding gown.
Her husband had looked at her that way.
She tamped down on that thought and took her place to wait for Tess and Chloe. Selina hadn't thought about her marriage in decades, maybe longer. She wasn't one to dredge up the past. She'd found that holding on to it would make her crazy.
But today seemed designed to remind her that she was alone and she hadn't always been.
Tess joined her, studiously avoiding looking at the groom's side, specifically a tall vampire. The small orchestra Millie had hired seemed to grow louder as Chloe walked down the aisle, arm-in-arm with her aunt.
Everything passed in a blur from there, for which Selina was grateful. The ceremony was brief, thank gods, and at the end Merek dipped his new wife into a deep bend and kissed her thoroughly while a raucous cheer went up from the crowd. They hurried up the aisle, Alex escorting Tess behind them. Cavalli offered Selina his arm, and she curled her hand into the crook of his elbow.
Tess was the one stuck giving the toast on the bride's side, and Alex's speech as the best man made Chloe cry and hug him tight. The couple's first dance was the first time Selina was completely out of the limelight, and she heaved a sigh of relief as she blended into the crowd and just watched them have their moment.
Alex sidled up beside her and nudged her in the ribs. "You look hot."
She cracked up and almost snorted champagne through her nose. "You sound like your godmother."
"Yeah, well." He shrugged, his pale green eyes gleaming. "She raised me right, what can I say?"
"How old are you, kid?" He was tall and broad, not an ounce of baby fat left on him. His face was lean, his tanned skin and dark hair a sharp contrast to his eyes. She'd bet he made all the teenaged girls swoon.
"Sixteen. Seventeen in a month or so. My birthday is right after graduation."
"So if you're this super-genius, how are you still in high school?" From what Merek had said, the kid could hack anything with a power switch, and had a photographic memory to match.
He rubbed a finger over the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, there's a story behind that."
"Uh-huh." She waved toward the swaying couple in the middle of the dance floor. "I've got nothing better to do but listen."
Besides, from what little she'd seen of the kid, he wasn't particularly chatty with anyone he didn't know well. Apparently, all the wedding planning and rehearsals they'd attended in the last few months meant he'd decided he liked her. She was touched. But maybe that was just the champagne.
"I wanted to know what it was like." There was no uncertainty in his voice when he spoke, no excuses. He'd done what he'd done and that was the end of it. Very unusual for a kid his age, but Merek had made it clear that Alex was no ordinary teenager. She believed him now.
She tilted her head. "You wanted to know what high school was like?"
"Yeah. Dating, prom, graduation." One shoulder dipped in a shrug. "You know, normal kid stuff."
"When you're a super-genius teen wolf, you just want to be Normal?"
Excerpted from Night Games by Crystal Jordan Copyright © 2012 by Crystal Jordan. Excerpted by permission of APHRODISIA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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