Giving into temptation threatens everything.
For half-human half-fae bounty hunter Riley, the job to recover the Seal of Morrowen stolen from the king of the golden fae’s vault isn’t just any job. It’s the job. Failure means lifetime imprisonment in the king’s darkest dungeons. Success means her freedom from permanent servitude. And while she hadn’t expected the job to be easy, she didn’t expect competition, certainly not in the form of the dangerous and sexy shadow fae bounty hunter, Couper. Their attraction is electric, but even if that isn’t a trick, she can’t afford to succumb to her desire, not with her freedom on the line.
This book is exclusively available in the Mystic Realms Collection
Riley watched the thief she’d been assigned to apprehend from her spot on the patio, half-hidden by the corner of a towering office building, the late afternoon sun a glare at the corner of her eyes if she shifted too far forward.
The thief, a scraggly fae with greasy hair that hung limply around his face, who could pass as a human heroin addict, stood in the small courtyard squeezed between a triad of office towers. He shifted, paused, then shifted again, his dark gaze darting around him. Clearly, he was jumpy. And aside from the fact that he’d stolen the Seal of Morrowen out of a high-security vault and jeopardized the treaty between the Golden Court and the Shadow Court, there was no reason for him to be this nervous.
Unless, of course, he was a nervous kind of guy… or he’d noticed her.
She pursed her lips and hooked a lock of brown hair behind her ever-so-slightly pointed ear — not pointed enough to be fae and too pointed to be human.
The thief had to have noticed her. He’d had enough courage to steal the Seal. Handing off the goods to whoever had hired him shouldn’t make him this nervous. That, and she couldn’t afford to bet that he was just a nervous kind of guy. This job was too important to make assumptions like that. This job could change her life. Forever.
Which meant she had to assume she was already screwing it up and fix the situation. Fast.
Except she couldn’t figure out how she’d alerted him.
She tugged on the collar of her black duster and straightened it to stop the chilly autumn wind from slipping down the inside of her T-shirt. She hadn’t thought she’d gotten close enough to be seen, but—
The thief glanced around again, his mannerism tighter and twitchier, and his nervous gaze leapt around the courtyard. Maybe he really was terrified of whoever had hired him.
She didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.
All around him businesspeople rushed from work, briefcases in hand and cell phones cradled between shoulder and ear. No one paid much attention to him, and no one looked like they were just hanging around waiting for an opportunity to hand off a payment or take the stolen Seal. It looked like an everyday, normal afternoon. Which only added more evidence to her having screwed up somehow.
Then the wind changed directions, a frosty northern breeze heavy with a musky, rich, masculine scent. It washed over her, drawing a shiver of desire that could only have been the human half of her reacting to fae pheromones.
Well, hey, maybe she hadn’t screwed up and alerted the thief after all.
The aroma came from somewhere to her left and not from the thief. It was dark, very dark, and smelled oh so good, like dark chocolate and sex. Correction, he smelled good.
Goose bumps rose on her arms and legs, and she glanced upwind, searching for the man, or rather — since she was in the human realm she’d use the human term — the fae.
She reveled in his scent, unable to help it. It was her only joy at being half human since fae pheromones could only be smelled by humans. It was also frustratingly one of the few things that made her a top bounty hunter in the King of the Golden Court’s employ — when he wasn’t despising her human half.
Lord and Lady, how she loved her job and hated her employer. She didn’t know how much more she could take being trapped in his employ, and until now she hadn’t had a way out. But her king had put her bond of servitude to him on the table, promising to release her as the reward for retrieving the Seal.
If she was smart, she should probably look that gift horse in the mouth, but she didn’t want to face the disappointment of it being a trick. Ignorance was bliss. At least until it bit her in the ass.
And trick or not, she still had a job to do.
Which was what she needed to focus on.
It was just so difficult with such an enticing aroma seeping across her senses.
The thief stiffened, his attention jumping to a corner of the courtyard wrapped in afternoon shadow, and there he was. Mr. Sexy-Smelling fae.
It was definitely him. No one else had an otherworldly air, and he looked as sexy as he smelled. Tall, dark, and unbelievably handsome. He wore a Henley and no jacket, revealing a broad chest, wide shoulders, and muscular arms. His black hair was cut short, human military style — not at all typical of a fae — exposing his pointed ears and highlighting his sculpted fae facial features. This was the kind of man a woman could spend hours looking at, and a man who’d want action over furtive gazes any day.
That thought sent another shiver of anticipation rushing through her.
The thief yelped, yanking her attention back to him as he bolted, and Mr. Sexy leapt after him, shoving through a pack of businessmen.
Shit. She’d hoped to catch the thief and his employer at the same time when they made the handoff, but Mr. Sexy here was ruining everything.
Discretion was no longer an option. She couldn’t afford to lose the thief, and she couldn’t afford for Mr. Sexy to get a hold of him either — and it certainly looked like the thief was his goal. If Mr. Sexy was from the Shadow Court, as his scent suggested, him getting the Seal would create a whole other mess of problems and being released from her bond suddenly jumped to the bottom of that list.
She certainly didn’t want to tell the King of the Golden Court’s Warlord that she’d failed in such a miserable way. The Warlord, in his usual permanent sour mood, was one thing — she could stay out of the line of fire of that — but the Warlord in a bad mood… flesh was guaranteed to be flayed from any and all who crossed his path.
The thief, with Mr. Sexy close at his heels, rushed into the nearest high rise. Riley ran after them, knocking people out of her way. She couldn’t lose sight of him. The question was, which him?
She had to stay with the thief since the tracking spell on him was fading, and the wind outside would sweep away his pheromones making it harder to track him — although she had yet to catch a whiff of him. If she lost him now, she might not find him in time to retrieve the Seal for the Transition and Binding Ceremony tomorrow at dawn. Her king would lose face, and there would be nothing to stop either Court from entering the human world on any whim — something that historically hadn’t turned out well for humans and fae alike.
But damn, a part of her didn’t want to lose sight of Mr. Sexy, either.
She picked up speed, and the thief and Mr. Sexy scrambled the wrong way down an escalator and leapt over the gate of a subway stop. She followed. An attendant yelled but didn’t give chase, and the few people on the platform ignored the ruckus, intent on minding their own business.
The train roared into the station, the doors opened with the chime, and people rushed out. She felt like a fish swimming against the current. She fought to keep her target in sight above the rush of people. Mr. Sexy was easy to spot, almost a whole head taller than the majority of the crowd and his pheromones billowed around her like a delicious blanket. The thief, however, with his small, slim stature, almost vanished, and she was forced — for a heart-pounding moment — to put her trust in Mr. Sexy being close enough to see him.
She bumped into a woman who glared at her, shoved through a group of men, and elbowed another man too slow to get out of her way. The jostle sent hot coffee burning down her cheek and into the collar of her T-shirt.
Cursing, she scrambled onto the closest subway cab as the doors slid shut. The train jerked forward and sped away. She scanned the platform. Only a few people around and they were heading for the stairs. Which meant — unless she’d completely screwed up — the thief was on the train… but so was Mr. Sexy.
The last time she’d seen him, he’d gotten onto the train four doors down. She had to assume so had the thief.
She rushed toward the back of the train, passing fewer people that she would have expected. Mr. Sexy must have used some of his fae charm to keep the humans from getting on the train — which, by affecting so many people, was a testament to how powerful his charm was.
She had to hurry. Mr. Sexy was already closer to the target than she was. Without any witnesses, he could grab the thief at any time and cast a relocation spell, and she couldn’t count on him not being able to cast the spell.
Thank the Lord and Lady she could. The Warlord had been disappointed when Riley had managed to cast the spell and even more disappointed when she’d invented her quick-draw sticker variation — not to mention he’d been completely pissed when none of the other bounty hunters who could cast the relocation spell couldn’t cast the sticker version. He did admit, much to Riley’s surprise, that it was infinitely easier to have the spell’s runes on the sticker than it was to write them out in blood on the target while trying to hold the struggling criminal down. She just had to bloody the sticker and tag the bounty’s skin. He could start running if he wanted. All that remained was for her to say the words of power and activate the spell sending him straight to the Warlord’s dungeon.
She took a safety pin from her pocket, jabbed her finger, drawing a tiny drop of blood, and smeared the blood on the back of a black circular sticker.
One relocation spell ready and set.
She found the thief in the next cab. It was the last one on the train, and the tracks whooshed away into the darkness beyond the back window. Between him and the back door stood Mr. Sexy, ready to pounce.
Riley’s pulse stuttered. Spicy masculinity wafted off of Mr. Sexy, the smell more intense than before and she struggled to concentrate. Not only did he smell good this close, he looked even better. Sexy as hell was more like it, with the muscular definition of his chest and abs clearer under his Henley and his muscular thighs sheathed in tight jeans. His eyes were filled with an intensity that made her shudder with need, and it astounded her he hadn’t been mobbed by women and men in the square and again on the subway platform when he charmed everyone away from the train. It was a small blessing this cab was empty, which meant she could savor his scent all to herself.
Catch the thief then daydream about the fae.
This was ridiculous. She’d never had such a strong reaction to a fae’s pheromones before.
She dragged her attention back to the thief, who trembled between them.
“I have a warrant,” Riley said. She didn’t reach for it, knowing if she did, Mr. Sexy might grab the thief first.
“Do you, little girl?” Mr. Sexy asked his voice a match to his looks: dark, sexy, and dangerous. Shivers danced over her skin.
She swallowed and inched closer to the thief, who in turn shuffled closer to the side door. All she had to do was get within reach and tag him with a sticker.
“And what will you do if I get in your way?” Mr. Sexy quirked an eyebrow, drawing her gaze to those dark depths. His voice was filled with a sexual promise that made her heart race and heat unfurl low within her.
He grinned, flashing slightly elongated canines. If she hadn’t thought he was from the Shadow Court before, she knew now. But the danger radiating from him didn’t diminish her attraction, only made her ache more with want.
Which was damn disconcerting. She’d never had this kind of a reaction to a fae before. Any fae. And she’d spent most of her life in the fae realm.
Even if she was a social outcast and forced to keep mostly to herself, fae still had to interact with her on occasion. Some of them, men and woman alike, had been gorgeous — to sight and smell. She’d never been filled with an instant wild craving to rip off any of their clothes and have sex with them. Not like she wanted to do right now.
She wrenched her thoughts from seeing Mr. Sexy’s broad chest naked and being close enough for his scent to fully embrace her. He had to be doing it on purpose. He had to have heard of her and knew she was half human and could be influenced by fae pheromones.
That thought sent a tremor shuddering through her.
He knew who she was. He—
Come on! Focus. Her freedom was on the line. He was trying to manipulate her. Well, damn it, she’d just manipulate him back. She could be just as disconcerting as him.
She matched his grin and let a hint of her aura fill the cab — if there were humans around, they’d smell her pheromones instead of seeing or sensing her aura. It wasn’t something she did often since most fae found her human-fae mix unsettling. But Mr. Sexy raised an eyebrow and his grin deepened, sending another shiver of desire racing through her.
Shit. Had she just confirmed her identity to him or did he not care that she was the next closest thing to an abomination?
“May the best fae win,” he said with a deep court bow.
Riley took advantage of his dropped gaze and leapt for the thief, but Mr. Sexy was faster.
He grabbed the thief and shoved him behind him. Riley grabbed the front of Mr. Sexy’s shirt instead and yanked. He stumbled and punched at her face. She stepped close to him, letting the strike skim past her cheek, determined to get around him and tag the thief with her relocation spell sticker. His scent billowed, enveloping her and making her knees weak.
She gritted her teeth and rammed her elbow into his gut. With a grunt, he staggered to the side, and she lunged after the thief, but Mr. Sexy seized her collar. She twisted out of her coat as the thief ducked behind the seats a few rows down. She scrambled toward him, and Mr. Sexy grabbed her ankle, slamming her face into the next seat’s back.
Stars danced across her vision, and she couldn’t get past the ridiculousness of her situation: fighting with an intoxicating man for some puny thief.
Mr. Sexy rushed past her. She snared his shirt — tit for tat — rolled to her feet and yanked him around. The thief bolted from his hiding spot, opened the back door of the car, and leapt onto the track.
Riley shoved Mr. Sexy aside, but he jerked her into his embrace. Her back smashed against his rock-hard chest and instant attraction snapped across her senses stealing her breath.
He brushed his nose along her neck as if trying to capture the scent of her pheromones — even though she knew he couldn’t smell them — while sending waves of his own washing over her.
“If you don’t mind.” She shuddered, the urge to tilt her head and captured his lips making her pulse race. “My bounty is getting away.”
“You mean my bounty.” His hot breath mixed with his scent. Oh, my God! She was going to melt into a puddle if she didn’t do something — and ripping off her clothes and offering herself to him wasn’t an option. She hadn’t survived for as long as she had in the fae realm because she could be easily manipulated.
She jerked out of his grasp before she lost her mind. She still had the sticker in her hand and, for a moment, considered sending him to the Warlord’s dungeon, but thought better of it. She didn’t have his warrant and there were issues with arresting a fae of the other court without one.
She turned to grab her coat, but Mr. Sexy caught her wrist. His eyes were dark, a bottomless brown, and now that she stood so close, she could see hints of gold flickering in those depths. Not a traditional color for the Shadow Court. If he hadn’t smelled and looked so dangerous, she’d be forced to assume he was from the Golden Court.
He held her gaze but had a strange expression, something between consideration and mocking. She was torn, wanting to bask in his sensuality and yet yearning to punch that smug expression off his face at the same time.
Then, without a word, he released her, said three quick words of power, and disappeared. Well, wasn’t he just Mr. Powerful fae, able to cast a relocation spell without blood. And damned if she didn’t want him to cast his sexy body back here.
Another shiver of need swept through her.
Jeez. Some hard-ass bounty hunter she was.
She grabbed her coat, leapt from the train, and sniffed. Still no hint of the thief’s pheromones and no sign of the tracking spell. The thief was gone.
His Majesty’s Warlord wasn’t going to be impressed.
His Majesty wasn’t going to be impressed, either, but with luck, Riley wouldn’t have to face him, and he wouldn’t rescind his offer of freedom. Maybe she didn’t have to go home to figure out where the thief would go next, but all possible evidence of the thief’s identity and his employer were in the vault where the Seal had been kept.
Her phone vibrated in her coat pocket. She contemplated not answering it, but if it was the Warlord, she’d need to come up with a rock-solid excuse for why she hadn’t. And as much as the Warlord denied it, Riley suspected he had a bit of farsight since he always seemed to know where she was and when she’d screwed up.
She checked the call display.
Sure enough, as reliable as clockwork.
“Give me an update.” The Warlord’s raspy tenor cut over the speaker before Riley could even say hello.
“There’s been a setback.”
“There’s another fae on the bounty.”
“Are you sure?”
Riley rubbed her aching forehead where she’d slammed it on the subway seats. “I’m pretty sure. And I’m pretty sure he’s Shadow Court.”
Silence. The Warlord had to be considering all the ramifications of that, and while there weren’t many, they were all big, like how did the Shadow Court learn about the theft so soon?
Unless, of course, someone from the Shadow Court had arranged for the theft, and if that was the case, then it wasn’t a far leap in logic to assume that the King of the Shadow Court was involved. Although why he’d want to break the pact when he was about the receive the Seal and ruin the agreement that benefited both Courts was beyond her.
The pact, as represented by the Seal and enforced by the magic within the Seal, had been in existence long enough that humans were starting to believe the fae didn’t exist. And now neither the Golden Court nor the Shadow Court were being hunted to extinction.
“You’d better be certain about something like this,” the Warlord said.
“Well, it’s not like he had a tattoo on his forehead saying ‘minion of the Shadow Court.’”
“Riley.” The Warlord’s voice turned darker than usual, and she had to admit that for once her smart-ass comment was out of place. It was true, but not appropriate considering the severity of the situation.
“He smelled like Shadow Court.”
“You and your nose.”
That was as much of an agreement as the Warlord was going to give her. And it wasn’t much. The other fae didn’t like the human half of her, and most of them were only polite because she was the queen’s favorite.
“His Majesty wants to see you.”
“I’m in the middle of a hunt.”
“I believe that’s the point.”
How to turn a screamingly unsuccessful day even worse. Her throat tightened. Please don’t let him change his mind about her one chance at freedom. “Fine. Where’s the closest fairy ring?” She’d GPS it on her cell phone once the call was done.
“Use the relocation spell.”
Riley pursed her lips. “That’s not necessary.” Her relocation spell only went one place: a cell in the Warlord’s dungeon. The last thing she wanted was to transport there. She might never be let out.
“Do I need to remind you that time is of the essence?”
“No. So I really should be getting back to the investigation.”
“Your king calls, Riley.” The Warlord’s tone offered no room for argument. And really, she wasn’t going to win this discussion. She never did. When King Rian called, no matter how ridiculous his request, all those of the Golden Court answered.
Riley slapped the sticker on the back of her hand. “My king requests, and I obey.”
“Good.” The Warlord hung up, and Riley slipped the phone back into her pocket. Could her day get any better?
It would if she could get another round with Mr. Sexy. She might even let him win, just so he could wrap his scent around her again.
Which was a sure sign she was in trouble, and she should never see him again.
She sighed. Here was to arriving in the Golden Court without any dignity.