Monday, December 29, 2014
Soft growls mingled with murmured words and breathless gasps in the dark. Stefanya arched and writhed beneath her lover. A gyrfalcon shifter, she needed the feel and freedom of air against her back. She allowed no man to top her, except those she trusted completely. Over the two years of their association Yuri had won that privilege, and more.
She announced her release with a shrill falcon whistle, but continued to move so Yuri could finish. He always saw to her pleasure before allowing his own. Afterwards they lay together, sweaty and sated, unmoving, unspeaking.
It was up to her to ruin the mood. The downside of being leader of the Seven. Yuri was her second in command. He should be told before the others that their mission was in peril.
She snuggled into the hollow of his shoulder and sighed heavily. “Sergei is here.”
He stared about the room in mock horror. “Right now? With us, watching? The old pervert!”
“No, you big pussycat. He is here in Talbot’s Peak. He’s seen me. We spoke.”
Only the twitch of his ass, the lash of an imaginary tail, betrayed his inner thoughts. “About what?”
“The mission is already compromised. Our target knows we’re here. I told our fool of an employer Dante had witches on his payroll. I gave him so many reasons why this wouldn’t work.”
Now it was Yuri’s turn to sigh. He did so while he toyed with her hair. He was almost ridiculously handsome, with a perfectly toned body and eyes that glowed like polished emeralds. His animal form was equally striking. Half Tibetan snow leopard, half Indian panther, he possessed a black pelt flecked with white, like snowflakes against a midnight sky. “So you want to talk business? Now? Very well. How deep in the muck are we?”
Stefanya caressed his dark hair. Always she was drawn to the black cats, and their fabled bad luck. “Not so deep just now, but it could go bad very quickly. Dante Hancock knows we’re here. Sergei knows we’re here, which means Zhere Ghan’s been alerted by now. That idiot sheep’s loose in the town somewhere. We should have hired a witch of our own. Someone to counter surveillance.”
“We have Alec,” he reminded her.
“This isn’t the right place for Alec. There’s next to no tech here for him to work with.”
“He’ll do all right.” Yuri grinned. His strong teeth flashed in the dark. “He’ll improvise. He lives to improvise. What’s magic anyway but a different form of technology? He has Irwin and his potions to aid him. All those aborigine spells. The witches won’t even know what hit them.”
“If we can keep Irwin with us. He doesn’t like this climate. He won’t complain, of course, but he longs for San Diego. I can tell.”
“And you,” Yuri whispered, suddenly serious. “What is it you long for?”
“An end to this mission. To all missions. No more snooping and spying and killing. What’s it brought us anyway but heartache?”
Yuri frowned. “You’d dissolve the Seven? Just fly away?”
“Why not? This mission’s doomed. I suspect even our employer knew it when he hired us. I’ll return his payment, tell him we couldn’t complete the assignment, and then we can do as we choose. This town was designed to hide and shield our kind. We could find a place here, or make our own.”
“Fly away,” he repeated. The gloom masked his expression. She couldn’t read his tone.
Stefanya nodded, her hair brushing his cheek. “It’s the perfect place, for us at least. High mountains for you, open sky for me. Castor and Pollox are sure to find a pack to join. Alec can return to the cities, and Irwin can go home. Maybe someone will finally shoot that damned sheep through the head. We’re days away from this country’s New Year. It’s like a promise, isn’t it? A chance for new beginnings.”
He said, in a rough voice, “Sergei is here.”
“Yes, but he won’t interfere with us. He—”
“Where the White Tiger is, the Black Tiger will follow. Is that why you want to stick around?”
Stricken, she cried, “No, of course not! How can you even think—”
But Yuri had already levered himself away from her. He swung his legs off the bed. “I’ll summon the others for a meeting tomorrow. We need to bring them up to speed and discuss our options. It probably wouldn’t hurt to get Cloyd off the streets before he starts slaughtering people.”
Stefanya sat up. “What happened between Mikhail and me ended years ago.”
“And yet you still speak of him.” Yuri stalked out of the room.
Stefanya hissed. Cursed cats and their cursed egos! Why was she always drawn to dangerous cats?
Sergei said she had a death wish. Perhaps at one time, but no longer. Now she wanted peace, here, with Yuri. Perhaps not children, given their disparate species, but a home for sure.
All that stood in their way was an assignment already destroyed, and a stalking tiger’s shadow, and Yuri’s insecurity. What must she do to prove her love to his satisfaction?
New beginnings, she thought morosely. But were they the right beginnings? The kind that led to happiness? That was never guaranteed.
The old year, her current life, still clutched her in its talons. She flung back the blankets and got out of bed. Nothing could begin afresh until the old ties were cut and the conflicts resolved. “A new year,” she muttered. “We shall see.”