Logan got out of the limo before me and did the polite thing to hand me out. The paving stones were cool underneath my stockinged feet, but I could deal with that better than the heels, so I carried my shoes. There was enough alcohol in my system to give me a pleasant buzz without throwing me off balance. A gentle spring breeze kicked up to bring me the mellowing scents of the garden.
"Good night, gentlemen." I smiled for our driver, then minced over to the smooth marble of the steps leading to the front door. I was halfway up before the engine revved and the limo headed toward the garage. Yeah, it was ours. Crazy, I know, but so much easier than renting, given how often we needed one these days.
I turned to face Logan when I heard footsteps following me. "Where are you going?" His car was parked in the little nook over to our left.
He kept his hands in his pockets, cutting a rather rakish figure in the soft porch light. With his jacket tucked back behind his wrists and the soft moonlight streaming down on him, he could have been in a photo shoot for GQ. "I'm staying here tonight."
He raised a brow. "Objections?"
It wasn't all that odd. The house was ridiculously large, with lots of space even given the dozen or so people who lived there. There were extra bedrooms and a few parlors with perfectly sleep-able couches. There was also a bunkhouse with a bunch more rooms. Logan had stayed over before.
"No." I turned back to the door to open it. No locks. Not when you had to go through three security gates, at least four different kinds of magical shields, plus a team of patrolling shifters. "Not as long as you checked with Chloe or Deidre first." My fellow coven members had taken over the house administrative duties, and I was more than happy to leave it in their capable hands.
My back tingled as he followed me into the shadowed hallway. "Deidre's got my rooms reserved for a long-time stay."
I stopped again and faced him. "You're moving in?"
He took a step closer, bringing him within arm's distance. "Would that bother you?"
This close in the moody lighting, it was really hard to remember that I needed to keep my distance from him. It would be too easy to melt into him and taste those lips he offered. The new information he'd told me in the car made him all the more enticing, a real-life action hero, not just one from the screen. And he knew it. The leash allowed him a certain level of sensitivity to my moods. When I caught him leaning in, I stepped back, my hand on his chest. His very warm, very hard chest. "Don't do that."
I shook my head to try to clear the pleasant, warm fog his low voice encouraged over my brain. "You know what I mean."
The left side of his mouth curled up. "Yeah. I do."
Just to be ornery, I poked him hard right in the center of his chest. "Did you talk to Michael about this?"
"Ouch." Smiling, he rubbed the spot I'd poked. "Yes."
"And he's okay with it?"
"He is." He didn't move, but something changed, like a cloud passing in front of the moon. He glanced up the stairs behind me. "Haven't talked to Rudy, though."
I blinked, turned, and looked up. There, at the top of the sweeping staircase, stood Rudy, dressed only in loose yellow shorts that stood out from the shadows surrounding him. Damn, I must have been distracted if I hadn't felt him near. His normally smiling face was ominously still, and I could almost swear I saw a sullen fire in his eyes, even from a distance. Through our special leash--one that allowed me to feel him on a much deeper level than Logan could feel me--I got a little burble of annoyance, but I didn't know if it was directed at me or at Logan. Probably both.
"Yeah, well." I put my back to Logan and, with clutch purse in one hand and swinging shoes in the other, started up the stairs. "We can talk about this more tomorrow."
"I look forward to seeing you."
Above me, Rudy's eyes narrowed.
Knowing Logan was goading me, goading Rudy, I didn't look back. "Good night, Logan."
"G'night, Meg. Rudy."
Rudy's eyes tracked the entrance hall beneath me, no doubt watching Logan. As I got closer to him, I could hear the low growl in his throat. He might not have been aware of the sound himself. I lifted my hand to palm his cheek, forcing him to face me. "Hey," I murmured, threading my fingers through the rough silk of his hair to bring his lips down to mine.
He kissed me but kept it brief. Tension made the back of his neck like a steel cable. "He's staying?"
All of a sudden, I was tired. Tired of the tension and tired of the games. I'd only been at this grand-dame thing for a few months, and it had already lived up to the hell I'd known it would be. "Because it's late, and because Michael's asked him to hang around." I dropped my hand and headed into the dark toward our rooms, my feet cushioned by expensive carpet. I didn't hear him, but I could feel my wolf following.
"Michael asked him to stay tonight?" Rudy kept his voice low even though no one was staying in the bedroom suite that we passed.
"That's what he says."
"I don't know. We'll have to ask him."
I heard his sullen "can't" as I pushed open the door to our suite. In the light of the single lamp, I saw Michael laid out on his side of the bed. As per usual for my hot-blooded shifters, all of the covers were banished at the foot of the mattress, so I plainly saw that my other lover was naked, lying on his belly. The smooth curves of his muscular physique just begged for tactile worship. His arms were folded under the pillow beneath his head, bunching the fabric up so it obscured half his face. His silky raven hair fanned over the rest. I glanced at the bedside clock. It was only 1:00 a.m. Michael was usually up and ready for my report whenever I got home from going out with Logan, even if he'd had a long day. "Is he really asleep?"
"Yeah." Rudy took my shoes to the armoire in the corner of the room. "Out like a light a few hours ago."
"Hours?" The fact that he didn't stir despite our talking told me more than Rudy's words. "Was he working with Julian?"
"Damn it. He's not supposed to do that when I'm not here. What were they working on?"
"Hell if I know. He didn't say much when he came in. He didn't eat either." Avoiding looking at me, he returned to take the clutch purse to the adjacent room, where I could deal with the contents tomorrow.
Even though I was still in my dress, I crawled up on the bed to kneel beside Michael. He still didn't move when I smoothed a hand over the dip of his waist, right above the smooth curve of his ass. "You playing possum?"
No answer, just deep, steady breathing. A little check through our mutual link assured me that he really was deep asleep.
I sat back on my heels. "Damn." Worry riddled away at my weariness. Michael was not supposed to work that hard on magic when I wasn't nearby. It was dangerous. Although he had been born a witch, an unprecedented experiment performed on him when he was just a kid had not only turned him into a jaguar but had suppressed his magic. Thirty-two years old, and he'd only just come into his powers. He'd never learned basic control, never needed it until an unusually deep bond with me had drawn his magic out. Now he had power, amplified by mine and the influx from my becoming grand dame, but he was almost helpless to contain it. Learning the basics of being a witch on top of helping me to establish myself as grand dame had taken their toll on the boundless strength of my jaguar. I stroked the curve of his shoulder and fought frustrated tears. "Oh, Michael."
I looked up when Rudy stopped at the edge of the bed, his hand outstretched to help me stand. The carefully blank look was still on his face, but I could easily feel the turmoil behind it. "Did Julian say anything?"
Once he had me on my feet, Rudy nudged me toward the bathroom. "Just that he'd need some rest. Julian didn't seem all that worried."
I grabbed the door frame, concerned gaze still on Michael. Witches only went out like that when they'd depleted their personal resources. Now that I was aware of it, I could feel the weariness through our link. Michael was like a battery very low on charge. "Maybe I should go see him."
Rudy pried my hand loose. "He's asleep. Everyone in the house is asleep except you and me."
And Logan. I didn't correct him, because it wasn't worth sparking Rudy's annoyance further. I didn't need our link to know he was still miffed by Logan's presence. I sighed and let myself be steered into the bathroom. Rudy waited to take my dress and stockings away, then left me alone to get out of my underwear and remove my makeup. By the time I returned naked to the bedroom, he was sitting on the pillows at the near side--his side--of the bed, waiting. The yellow shorts were gone, leaving every inch of his smooth, taut body bare, his pale skin in bright relief against the dark sheets and polished wood of the headboard.
Instead of crawling onto the mattress, I stopped at his knees and placed my hands on his shoulders. "Hey."
He gave me sulky blue eyes back. "Hey." Sometimes I forgot that Rudy was only twenty years old. In so many ways, he'd lived far more than I. But right now, he looked very young and very vulnerable through his frown.
I let all my love and appreciation show in my expression and through our link as I used my fingertips to trace the sharp, handsome lines of his face and the full, gentle curve of his bottom lip. "How was life at the shop today?"
He slid his palms up over my bare hips. "Fine."
I pinched his chin lightly. "Stop pouting."
The fingers at my waist clutched just a little to go with the almost snarl that lifted the left side of his mouth, but he backed off both. "I'm not pouting." He wound his arms around my waist to pull me closer so he could nuzzle between my breasts. "How was the party?"
I curled my arms around his neck, cuddling him close. "Overdone and blindingly fake." I kissed the top of his head and let the truth of my next words flow into him. "I would have much rather been here with you."
Some of the tension melted from his neck and shoulders as he soaked up what I gave him. Smoothly we adjusted so he could turn his head to trail kisses over the curve of my breast to one nipple. His hands caressed the curve of my hips, then wandered back to the dip of my spine and the upper swell of my ass. Clever fingers traced my curves lightly, making me crave so much more.
I kneaded his shoulders, enjoying his touch. Then I saw Michael still lying peacefully behind him. "C'mon, let's go into the other room so we don't disturb Michael."
"Too late." Aha, within the spread of black hair there was a twinkle that must be one of Michael's eyes, now open.
Rudy twisted in my arms as Michael lifted his head just enough to toss his hair out of his face. He gave us a sleepy smile.
"Sorry," I whispered, combing my fingers through Rudy's hair.
"Don't be." He patted the empty space between us, my sleeping space. "Stay here. Make love."
"You're tired," Rudy protested.
Michael grunted. "Didn't say I'd join. Jus' wanna watch."