Friday was a scorcher. The weatherman said Oklahoma hadn’t seen a summer this hot since 1936. Temperatures had spiked well into the hundreds every day for the past three weeks. Not a drop of rain in the last nine. Farmers worried, tempers flared, and I felt a little pissy myself. This was my fifth wedding in a month, so I’d had my fill of blushing brides and all the drama that went with them.
I snapped off the radio and pulled my car onto an unpaved road, dodging four Texas-sized potholes to park behind a slew of pickups. I dragged myself out of the car, and as I stepped into the swirling dust and oppressive heat, I received a few angry glares from my fellow wedding guests. I didn’t let it bother me. After all, I was the paid party pooper. And speaking of poop, I gazed across the field to realize the bride’s backyard was a cow pasture. The heat added a special piquant bouquet to the fly-covered cow shit that surrounded me. Fortunately, the cows were fenced off to one side, their lazy tails swishing to and fro as they people-watched and chewed their cuds.
I was going to kill my soon-to-be-former assistant. Sunny had to have known about this venue when she booked the job. Sunny knew everything.
I almost turned and hopped into the car, ready to speed back to Tulsa. To hell with the five thousand-dollar fee. But then I’d never hear the end of it. Sunny could hold a grudge longer than anyone I’d ever met.
Since going home wasn’t really an option, I cautiously stepped off the dirt road and into the field. My glittery Ann Taylor pumps weren’t any happier to tromp across the scorched grass than I was. Cursing under my breath, I wobbled on my heels as I sidestepped cow pies. A man in a mustard yellow shirt and too-tight brown slacks watched me struggle to keep my balance. Asshole didn’t even offer to help. Just gave me a smirk and moved on.
Typical. Others didn’t like me much. Understatement. Although my business card claimed I was an event consultant, in actuality I was a glorified babysitter for magical folk. My name is Holly James, and I’m a null for hire. The couple getting married—werepossums. I know, all the movies and books portray shape shifters as scary, sexy wolves that will rip out your throat or steal your heart, sometimes simultaneously. And while that’s not inaccurate, they come in the marsupial variety as well. I’m sort of a supernatural bodyguard. My magical void would render them incapable of shifting into possums and ruining the wedding. Especially the pictures. I’m sure you haven’t seen weres post-shift, but it’s not pretty. Let’s just say drippy, viscous fluids and leave it at that.
Of course, even with my presence, nothing would prevent these two squabbling families from beating the crap out of each other in human form. But that, my friends, was not my problem.
So here I was, trekking through a damn pasture on one of the hottest days of the year when out of nowhere a blast of frigid air teased the hem of my blue skirt and tickled the backs of my knees. Goosebumps rose along my heated skin.
I stopped in my tracks. Normally, that type of wind came with cloud cover and an impending rainstorm. But all was clear in the cornflower blue sky. The early evening sun hovered near the horizon, shining bright enough to make me squint behind my oversized sunglasses.
As abruptly as the wind came, it went.
I gazed at the group moving toward the arched trellis planted in the middle of the field. No one else seemed to notice that sharp, icy gust.
I shrugged off a hint of foreboding and chalked it up to my imagination. I shouldn’t have.
That breeze was the wind of change.
And if I ever feel it again, I’m going to run like hell in the opposite direction.
Fucking redneck werepossums.
Wearing only one shoe, I stumbled into my two bedroom ranch in South Tulsa. Pink frosting coated my hair, and I’d stupidly used my vintage Chanel purse as a shield against a flying rib. Vintage. Chanel. The silver leather bore a barbecue splotch right on the logo.
The ceremony had gone off without a hitch unless you counted obscene hand gestures thrown back and forth while the bride and groom exchanged vows. But the reception was another story. The groom’s daddy downed too many shots of Jack, so when the bride’s mama started mouthing off about the white trash possum her daughter married, it was game on. The families battled it out using potluck side dishes as weapons. That’s right, a potluck wedding reception. At a bingo hall.
And the final classy touch? The bride got hauled away in a police cruiser while her groom chased it down the street, screaming her name.
Never again. No more shifters. No more weddings in the middle of shit-filled pastures. I’d reached my limit. Sunny was going to get an earful come Monday morning. She set up all my gigs and wasn’t as picky as I was. In fact, as long as the check cleared, she wasn’t picky at all. That needed to change.
Kicking off my remaining shoe, I glanced at my once beautiful bag. I’d do what I could to remove the stain, but I wasn’t holding my breath. After laying it to rest on the hall table, I shucked my clothes, tossed them in the laundry room, and headed for the shower.
I didn’t come out until I’d used up every drop of hot water. With my skin scrubbed pink and my shoulder-length brown hair squeaky clean, I pulled it into a wet ponytail. Not bothering with a bra, I threw on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts before padding to the kitchen. I needed a serious amount of wine.
I had just curled up on the sofa with the remote and was about to take my first sip of New Zealand Pinot Noir when a knock sounded at the door. Since it was after eleven, I wasn’t expecting company.
Emptying my hands, I tiptoed to the front door. The motion-activated porch light flooded the stoop. I glanced out the peephole, and a stranger stared back. A hot grimacing stranger.
“Open up, Null.”
I jerked away, my eyebrows sky-high, my heart pounding. Had to be an Other. How else would he know my null status? And how did he find my address? I wasn’t listed. I didn’t know what he wanted with me, but showing up at my home? Unannounced? It couldn’t be good.
I snatched the old aluminum baseball bat I kept in the corner for protection. “Who are you?” I yelled, spying through the hole once again.
“Cade McAllister, here on Council business.”
That made me pause. I lived on the periphery of the magical community. Even so, I’d heard rumors over the years. Mainly from my Gran, but still. According to her, the Council was a powerful, corrupt governing body. They policed Others and managed to line their pockets at the same time—just like your run-of-the-mill Norm politicians. The big difference: one did not screw with the Council and live to tell the tale.
So what did they want with me? I simply provided a service for Others who couldn’t control themselves. Funerals, birthday parties, reunions. The world was full of feuding families. When you added the supernatural element, a spat could turn ugly quick.
I licked my dry lips, adjusting my grip on the bat. “How do I know you’re not lying?”
I heard some mumbling.
“What was that?” I yelled.
“I’m showing you my badge. Look through the peephole.”
I peered out, but couldn’t see it clearly through the distorted glass. “I can’t read what it says.”
“Goddamn it, woman,” he rumbled. “Open the door.”
I hesitated. If he were an Other, I’d already nullified him. But even if he couldn’t use his magical powers, he could still do awful, human things to me.
“If you don’t open up, Null,” he said so quietly I could barely make out the words, “I’m going to bust it down.”
With a frown, I undid all three locks, still holding the bat in my right hand. When I cracked the door open a few inches, Cade McAllister loomed over me. I’m on the short side, so most people are taller than I am, but this man’s height made me feel downright petite. Propping both hands on either side of the brick façade, he stared down at me with pale hazel eyes.
Those eyes slid up my body like a caress, taking in my coral polished toes and bare feet. They skimmed my lightly tanned legs to my blue dolphin shorts—the ones that showed a little too much ass, which is why I only wore them around the house—and my pink I heart ninjas t-shirt, sans bra. He grunted at my chest. His gaze lingered on my breasts longer than was necessary before tracing up to my face. He finally stopped at my eyes, which I narrowed in irritation.
“Holly James?” His voice was rough and deep and sent the tiniest shiver through me. My nipples stood at attention.
I held the bat up, ready to swing for the fences if I had to. “What are you?”
“Sorcerer. At least I was before you sucked all the magic out of me. So, you suck anything else, Null, or am I safe?” Sorcerers were top dog in the witch world. They could tap into Others’ powers and hijack them, harness those powers for themselves. They had a reputation for being arrogant pricks.
Anyway, I didn’t zap an Other’s mojo permanently. He’d be fine once we went our separate ways. And I didn’t dignify his innuendo by responding either. Not so much as a blink. “Let me see your ID.”
He shoved the badge under my nose. It looked official. Council seal and all that. And he didn’t smile for the photo. He scowled like he was ready to kick the camera’s ass.
I glanced from the photo to the real deal. My gaze swept over him, then traveled the length of him once again at a more leisurely pace. In his early to mid-thirties, he wasn’t handsome. His features were too interesting for that. His nose was a tad crooked at the bridge, his cheekbones high and sharp. He was sexy in a masculine way despite the fact that the scowl seemed permanent. Tanned skin with red undertones said he spent a lot of time outdoors.
His dark hair was super short, almost buzzed, and sort of melded with his five o’clock shadow. The odd thing was, he had an old jagged scar about an inch and half long on his right jaw. Most sorcerers would have aided the healing process with magic, left no trace of an imperfection. But he’d let it heal and scar on its own. I wondered why.
Broad shoulders stretched the knit fabric of his green t-shirt. What looked to be a colorful, tattooed dragon wound its way out of his collar and around the side of his neck. The red, green, and gold scales appeared fluid in the dim light. Tight, faded jeans molded over long legs and muscular thighs. I finally dragged my gaze from his brown, worn shit kickers up to his eyes. “You’d better come in before we attract the moths.”
“No. Someone wants to speak to you. Follow me.” He spun and sauntered down my porch steps. That’s when I saw the limo idling on the curb in front of my house.
“Forget it, Sorcerer,” I called after him. “I’m not getting in a car with you.” Voluntarily ride off with a strange Other? A Council Other at that? Not even.
McAllister’s shoulders stiffened. Turning on his heel, he slowly strode back to me, stopping at the threshold. I tightened my clutch on the bat.
He moved closer and, as his chest brushed my knuckles, I caught a hint of some exotic scent. I’d never smelled anything like it, and it was heady. He jerked the bat from my hands and tossed it behind me. It landed with a clatter on the tiled floor of the entryway.
I gaped at him. “Hey, what the hell?”
He didn’t argue, just bent to grab my knees and tossed me over his shoulder in one swift move.