I love, love, love, LOVE these characters. Devere and Kaia have been romping around in my head for more than a decade, and they have such a fun creation, stemmed from roleplaying in a Dark Hunters’ group on facebook.
And now, I’ve finally rendered the budding of their love story.
Their story spans further than this, the first, or the LOVING RED saga as a whole. You can’t see me, but I’m rubbing my hands together here, excited about how these guys are going to pop back up in the end of INFERNO and throughout RESSURECTION, the fifth and final book in the BLOOD PHOENIX saga.
I don’t want to belabor the point. These guys have chemistry.
So, here’s a look at the first chapter of LITTLE RED AND THE SURLY BEAR. Be sure to join me over the next twenty-four hours for some book-related giveaways with my launch party, starting at 2PM Central. Come chat and nab some free stuff!
But now, let’s get into story:
Home sweet home. The iron and wood of the bar were a welcome sight. Glass bottles stacked behind the bartenders, and Maddy rang the bell at the pick-up window connecting to the kitchen, her famous stew billowing steam from the ceramic bowl.
I hefted my duffle bag around my shoulder, squeezing through the filled tables and nodding at the staff—most of them weary bosex in need of asylum and a few new humans that seemed to shrink under the breadth of my chest and towering height. I acknowledged them, foregoing the smile.
My mission weighed too heavily on me to drum up the pretense, mask already cracking under the pressure of earning the Travelers’ trust. Even the females were leery of me, although less so than the men, who didn’t like my toeing their territory, especially the vampires. A misled assumption that I wanted one their women.
I shook it off, compartmentalizing, and swung into the kitchen to show Maddy my face before I disappeared upstairs. She’d mount my head on the wall if I snuck off without saying hello.
“You’re back.” Maddy’s smile lit up the stark kitchen, my nephew banging around the metal bowls to coat the fried chicken. “Have they been feeding you? Theo, make your uncle a bowl of stew to take with him.”
“I can feed myself just fine.” Although, I struggled to find the time away from the crew to find safer options as I wormed into their cliques. The taste of human flesh wasn’t my favorite, but I’d scavenged it a few times as a cub when I was desperate.
A few of the younger bosex gravitated my way as I ate grilled animals and human snacks. The older crew called me a hipster or herbivore or hippie, but the plan wasn’t to convert them all, just their young, and the boys saw in me a lot of what they wanted as a man. Mostly, I was good with the ladies, and their hormones controlled much of their thoughts, but that was why the Assetato sent me to infiltrate the group.
My nephew handed me a box with stew and enough bread to last me the evening, and I nodded him my approval.
“Don’t hide away all night. We have a surprise performance from some locals that you wouldn’t want to miss, and I could use you at the door.” Maddy pinned me with her expert mothering look, one she practiced on me throughout our childhood before she ever became a mother. It didn’t matter how many times I told her that she was a scant few minutes older than me; she claimed older sibling status and waved it in my face like a dude with a big dick.
I might have gone through a phase. Sue me.
“I’ll be back down by eight.”
“Good.” She shooed me away to my apartment above the bar.
It was small, but I didn’t need much, and I wanted to leave the townhouse apartments to the strays that came in need of shelter. They were big enough for full families, which swung through from time to time, but we’d only filled one room at the moment—Javier, who quickly became a cornerstone of our staff after he’d been chased out of his last pack for challenging the alpha and losing. It happened more often than most thought.
The stew settled the undercurrent of nerves left over from touring, and I fell into my old routine without much thought: shaving, showering, and cleaning up before strapping on jeans and a tight tee to flex my arms at the ladies. My smile was the secret weapon, and I worked it to pay the bills.
Javier uncapped a local brew and slid the bottle to me as I stepped behind the bar.
“Things been quiet the last few weeks?”
“Nothing more than a few drunks who didn’t want to pay their tabs. Your sister’s stew made for a few sloths. Pretty normal, I’d say.”
Dinner patrons shifted to late night drinks and pool hounds.
But the boys moved the tables around the stage where bands set up on weekends, and the scent of patchouli, orange, and baby powder mixed with the fog from our machine. I leaned against the frame by the front door, arms across my chest as I waited for whatever performance Maddy seemed excited about.
A few pretty little things showed me their IDs, wiggling their curves and batting lashes at me. I gave them a wink as they leaned against the long, sleek bar, giggling with each other and ogling the other shifters in the place. Maddy did a good job of maintaining a strong male presence for the vacationers and girls in bikinis, and as the lone female working, I was glad she stayed behind the order window, so I wouldn’t have to crack more skulls than necessary.
Smoke billowed out from the sides of the stage as the main room’s lights dimmed, narrowing into a spotlight. Drums beat low and steady, a tribal rhythm that had a few girls rocking with it.
Four women stepped onto the stage, swaying and shimmying with the beat. Their sparkling bangles swung over their bare mid-drifts and hips, arms raising above their heads to elongate their movements.
A fifth stepped out behind them as the rest moved off the stage to circle the floor.
Her scent warped the space, narrowing it as her pale skin glowed in the stage lights, a light shimmer to her skin barely noticeable with her hips moving in slow, controlled spirals. Her stomach rolled as her body moved in full undulations. The veil over half of her face made her green eyes brighter, like the moss-covered Scottish Highlands.
Fingers perfectly posed, this woman’s movements were more elegant, and she took up the entire stage, the four on the floor mimicking her—none of them poor dancers, but none of them outshone their companion.
As they bowed forward, she released her hair, and red swept down to her shoulders. Her body arced, her chest circled, and the jiggle of her legs bloomed the taste of her on the air. How I smelled her over everything else, orange and patchouli, almost stepped me from my post. Hands brought me to her hips as she gyrated, and I wanted them against me.
Stepping down with her fellow dancers, they swirled in unison, and her veil disappeared to reveal her red-painted mouth. Those mossy eyes performing their own dance through the crowd. When her gaze landed on me, a vacuum sucked the air from the room, and she spun my direction.
Releasing another veil from her hip, her steps whirled her toward me. Thin fabric circled my neck as her bangles pressed into my stomach, and she winked wickedly before fluttering back to her group.
The fun I could have with her evident in the way she smiled, in the vibrations of her limbs, in the control of her rapid movements.
Skirts twirled, jingling matching the drums as the last strains of music died.
The little redhead peered over her shoulder, and I rubbed her token between my fingers.
She vanished behind the curtains on the side of the stage, another song starting and a new group spinning out to perform.
I hit up Javier for another beer, his grin matching the rumbling deep inside me—one that I’d ignored in the field, that needed soothed. The brew did nothing to dim it or the scent of her on the fabric as I tucked it into my pocket, but it sprouted again as the real thing sauntered back into the room in jeans and a dark tee, the shimmer still glued to her skin.
Another patron waited for me at the entrance, her fingers lingering on my arm as I returned her ID.
The redhead saddled up to the bar, poised at the end a few feet from the door where her scent overpowered me. Decidedly human but intoxicating, I appreciated the way her back arched as she ordered a drink, and I flagged the bartender to put it on my tab.
She turned to admire me. Yeah, I know I’m full of it, but that’s the best way to describe the look in her eyes. “Thanks.”
I sent her a deadly wink and enjoyed the pink brushing her cheeks.
“You must be Maddy’s younger brother.”
I snorted. “Yeah, by two-and-a-half minutes.”
“Twins. Makes sense. She worries about you.”
I draped an arm over the back of the empty hostess stand. “Does she? I didn’t realize she talked about me so much.”
A slender shoulder shrug, bouncing her hair as she drew a swig from her own beer. “Maybe it’s just me. We’re nearing friendship territory. Girls night and all.”
“It’s likely just you, little red. My sister isn’t a frilly type.”
The quirk of her mouth sweetened her scent. “Neither am I.”
“Must be why she confides in you then.”
“Oh, you don’t think she talks about you every chance she gets?”
“Not unless she wants me locked in a cell.”
“Are you telling me you’re as dangerous as you look?” She swiveled on the stool, crossing her legs and swinging her beer between her fingers. Her lips puckered around the tip of the bottle, her thumb running along the moisture on the neck.
A fire rumbled in my gut as I thought of a few things I’d like her to do with her mouth.
“Depends on how dangerous you think I look, little red.”
Her smile said she appreciated the name. “You make it sound like you’re the big bad wolf.”
“More of a surly bear.”
Her gaze danced along the front of me. “Big enough, but aren’t bears supposed to be hairy?”
I grinned for her. “Not when we live in the age of clippers and razors.”
“Are you trying to put images in my mind, bear?”
“None that aren’t already in there.” A new group of patrons pulled me from the naughty gaze she gave me.
Another performance started, dimming the lights and misting more fog across the floor. The redhead’s skin sparkled again, calling for my touch as she leaned in and reached her hand out to me.
“Kaia, by the way, bear.”
Her hand was soft but cold as I laid a kiss on it. “Dev.”
“Dev? That must be a nickname.”
“Short for Devere. It’s French.”
“Mmm, a French bear here in Florida. Now, I’ve heard it all.” Her hand lingered in mine, slowly slipping away like she wanted to pull me closer. How easily I could give into it, to take her upstairs and smear that glitter across both of our bodies, but if she was truly a friend of Maddy’s, the short-lived pleasure would cause more trouble than it was worth.
“I’m sure I have a few more surprises to throw at you, but Maddy would kill me if I scared you off.”
“What makes you think you could?” The challenge in her voice dug nails into my back, pushing at the itch I needed to scratch. Sweet and earthy plumes laced around me as she dropped from her stool to step nearer.
“Experience.” Breathing her in tapped the darker recesses of my nature. “In our line of work, it’s difficult to maintain relationships of any sort outside of family.”
Green moss glimmered with a challenge, her finger poking the center of my chest twice. “Well, do you provide a safe walk service?”
The corners of my mouth twitched with humor. “We certainly do.”
“Hmm. Let me grab my things, then. I’m parked around back.”
This wasn’t a good idea, but I didn’t care. I followed the curve of her walk as she weaved through tables and people, waving and smiling before she disappeared behind the curtains. At the back door, I caught her bending over to lift a chartreuse duffle bag. Some of the other women hugged her, making plans for later or wishing her a good night. A few of them glanced my way, and my muscles tightened as she strode toward me.
I had the door open, waiting for her without pause, and her finger found my arm on her way by. Close behind, the door shut, and we were alone. The moon swaying with her hair as she bounced to her car and threw the bag in her trunk.
“Did you need me to check the backseat?”
“You mean that bear nose can’t smell it from here?” The slow blink teased me, but it didn’t persuade me that she might know more than she let on. It breathed danger into the tension between us, the one yanking me forward as her hand tugged a piece of my long hair.
“Can’t help but play with fire, can you?” I barred her in with my arms, and she shifted seductively, fingers patting the corner of her mouth.
“It was only a little tug. Don’t be so sensitive.” Red-stained lips parted, she lifted them to mine. Atmosphere bloomed between us, and my hand found her back, pulling her into me as her grip wrenched more hair. Heat drove deep as a peek of her flesh bared under my touch.
I grabbed her roughly, lifting her against the trunk, and her soft moan cracked my restraint. She clung to me as I pressed into her.
My mouth dropped to her ear, grasping for scraps of sanity. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, little red?”
Everything about her screamed for me to take her.
“I don’t think you understand how dangerous this is.”
“Oh, you don’t think I’ll hurt you. Do you, bear?”
I snorted, breath draping across her neck. It made her back arch, and I wanted to bite her. A nibble. Maybe more.
“I have a reputation.”
Her thumb fell to my lips. “A ladies’ man. I have eyes.”
“It’s not likely to stop anytime soon.”
“If your rep is so bad, why are you telling me about it instead of taking advantage of the opening I’m offering you?”
Her touch, her scent, the heat in her eyes, they all needled my resolve. Why was I?
Because of my sister. That was why. We allotted ourselves so few friends in the human world. I’d easily ruin this for her if I didn’t stop now.
“Because my sister needs a friend more than I need to get laid.”
Kaia slumped back, fingers tracing the stubble on my cheek, a pursed smile beguiling me further. “You’re a good brother.”
“Only when it counts.”
Her laughter lightened the weight of my desire for her, and I set her feet back on the ground.
“I bet.” Another little tug, and she slipped away.
The moon taunted me; traces of her essence played partner.
I cursed her for being exactly what I needed right then and went inside to the flirt-filled gazes of the ladies sitting at the bar.
With a wink on my way by, I returned to my station up front.
Remember to celebrate with me on facebook, Instagram, or twitter to take part in the giveaways. I’ll be taking entries from 2PM Saturday, June 15th until 2PM on Sunday, June 16th before I pick the winners, but if you want to win some of the extra grab bags or freebie stories, be sure to check in on the official event page.