The Prince of Air & Darkness
Hunter pulled his leather coat tightly closed and surreptitiously tucked his hands under his armpits. The breeze held a sharp November bite, and he had enough mortal blood in him to feel the cold keenly. He wished his mother had waited for spring to engage in this latest round of Court intrigue.
He slanted a glance in her direction. She was sitting beside him on the bench in Rittenhouse Square, looking serene and regal and not the least bit cold. The heavy mink coat that draped her body was for effect only. She must have felt his eyes on her, for she turned her head his direction.
Hunter abruptly looked away. No one, not even her son, wished to be the recipient of the full attention of the Queen of Air and Darkness.
“Are you growing impatient, my son?” she asked.
Her voice had a brittle, unsettling edge to it, and it chilled him more than the cold air. But showing fear in front of her was like waving a bloody steak before a wolf, so he stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles, and tried to look bored. “We’ve been out here almost an hour,” he said, not looking at her. “When is this little morsel going to make an appearance?”
“Sooner than you think.”
Hunter sat up abruptly and turned to see his mother smiling at someone in the distance. It was the same smile she wore when she ordered a particularly gruesome execution, and he felt an instant of pity for the recipient of that smile. Then, he followed her gaze.
His eyes were drawn instantly to the woman who held his mother’s attention. “Is that her?” he asked. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Queen nod. He pulled the brim of his hat down so that he could regard the target more closely without being seen.
His first impression was that she was rather unprepossessing. An ill-fitted puffy coat hid any shape she might have had, and her cheeks were apple red from the cold. Her jeans were threadbare, but not in a fashionable way. Frizzy red curls peeked out from under an ugly knit hat pulled down all the way to her ears, and a mismatched knit scarf was wrapped around her throat. Warm she might be, but he wondered if she’d ever seen herself in the mirror in that get-up.
She must have inherited more than her fair share of her mother’s genes, Hunter decided. He couldn’t discern even a passing resemblance to Finvarra, the High King of the Daoine Sidhe. He cocked his head at his mother. “Are you certain she’s Finvarra’s get?” he asked.
The Queen smiled savagely. “Quite certain, my son. From what I’ve heard, he was staggering drunk the night he sired her. I suspect he never even noticed her mother’s face, being entirely absorbed with her . . . other charms.”
Hunter made a face at the thought. On a number of occasions after a successful hunt, he’d celebrated by visiting bars in the mortal world. He’d gotten pretty drunk a number of times, but never so drunk that he would accidentally bed someone ugly. The target—Kiera Malone—sat down on a bench only a few yards away, pulling a book from the pocket of her coat.
“The woman must be mad,” he muttered under his breath. No mortal in her right mind would sit out in this cold just to read. His own feet felt like lumps of ice in his heavy boots, and he suspected his lips were an unappealing shade of blue.
“Well?” the Queen prompted.
Hunter shrugged. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t give her a second glance,” he said with a faint curl of his lip. “But I doubt bedding her will be overly unpleasant.” He tried to muster some enthusiasm for his Courtly duty, but malice didn’t come naturally to him, and if he wasn’t careful, pity and regret would sneak through his defenses.
The Queen snorted. “I was not enquiring about your enthusiasm for your mission. I was asking if you thought you could manage it.”
Hunter stiffened at the implied insult. He might not have the seductive power of a full-blooded fey, but he’d yet to meet a mortal woman he couldn’t seduce. “Of course I can manage it!” he snapped. “She’s homely enough that she’ll be panting like a dog the moment I turn on the charm.” It was an uncharitable assessment—while she might not be beautiful, she certainly wasn’t homely—but it was the kind of disdain his mother expected of him. He’d learned at an early age that failing to meet her expectations carried a heavy price.
The Queen’s eyes glittered dangerously at his tone, and Hunter tensed. That glitter usually preceded a particularly painful disciplinary action. Disdain for the mortal, she would encourage; disdain for herself, she would punish with her trademarked cruelty.
“I will have difficulty performing my duties if I am in pain,” he told her in a mild, bland voice that sounded much calmer than he actually was. Only a fool would be calm when the Queen of Air and Darkness was angry with him.
Her cold, beautiful face broke into a smile that did nothing to warm her aspect. “Why, Hunter, dear, what makes you think I would hurt you?”
His insides twisted at the malevolence of her gaze. Being her son offered no protection, although other members of the Unseelie Court grumbled about perceived privileges. Hunter had known from the time he was a little boy that she would not hesitate to execute him—slowly and painfully—if he ever displeased her. Just as she had executed his father when the foolish mortal had tried to take Hunter away from the Unseelie Court.
It took all Hunter’s effort to keep his hatred from showing on his face. No matter what he said or did, she would undoubtedly keep him alive and relatively unharmed until he had done her wishes and fathered a child on Finvarra’s bastard daughter. But he mustn’t give her any reason to dispose of him afterward, either. His life might not be the stuff of dreams, but he was rather fond of it nonetheless. And Hunter had plans for the child his mother had ordered him to sire, plans she would find very distasteful indeed. So he fought the hatred that roiled within him, fought to keep his expression bland and thereby soothe her ire.
The Queen reached out and touched his cheek with her bare hand. He knew better than to flinch, no matter how much the touch of her hand made his skin crawl.
“My beautiful son,” she murmured, with something that could almost be taken for affection if he didn’t know better. “You will have Finvarra’s bastard flat on her back in no time, I’m sure of it.”
He was sure of it as well, and though a small, human part of him pitied the woman whose life he would destroy, he shoved that pity down into the darkness of his soul. He could not afford pity, nor kindness, nor conscience. He was his mother’s creature, beaten and shaped into the mold of an Unseelie Prince. Her creation, her sword arm, her puppet. If the role chafed, that was just too bad. His destiny had been sealed the moment he was born.
The Queen’s hand slid from his cheek, and he glanced once more at his target.
Kiera Malone was looking right at him, and he froze like a rabbit. There was something odd about her gaze, something strangely knowing. His pulse quickened and he found himself unable to look away. Had he doubted for a moment that Faerie blood flowed in her veins, the otherworldly look in her eyes quelled that doubt. Then she blinked and turned away, frowning, and she looked once more like the mortal woman she was.
“Let us prepare you for the attack,” the Queen said, rising gracefully from the bench.
Two goblins, clothed in Faerie glamour that made them look like street-dwelling mortals, rose from nearby benches, darting suspicious glances around the square as if assassins might be lurking behind any tree. When the Queen strode purposefully toward the apartment building where Kiera lived, Hunter hurried to follow, the goblins falling into step behind them. They were the Queen’s bodyguard, but Hunter couldn’t help feeling like they were in equal part his own jailors, keeping him trapped in his mother’s company when his soul screamed for release.
Kiera took a deep, steadying breath before she pulled open the diner door. Lunch with her mother was always an adventure and usually left her unsettled, or irritated, or just plain confused. However, with them both living in Philadelphia, it seemed there was no way Kiera could shield herself entirely from her mom’s goofiness.
Bells adorned the diner’s door—no doubt in early preparation for Christmas—and they jingled loudly. Only the patrons nearest the door seemed to notice the sound. Kiera scanned the bustling crowd and soon picked out her mother’s signature carrot-orange hair. Inwardly, she sighed. She would have thought once her mother went gray, she would have chosen a more . . . understated . . . color for her hair. Instead, she insisted on replicating the hideous orange that Kiera had always hated—both on her mother and on herself.
Her mother waved eagerly, and Kiera wove through the tables until she reached the booth. Cathy Malone beamed as though she hadn’t seen her daughter in years.
“Have a seat!” her mother cried, sounding far more excited than the situation warranted. Her eyes shone with an almost manic glee, a glee that made Kiera’s nerves buzz with apprehension. Nothing good ever happened when her mother’s eyes shone that way.
Kiera hung her coat on the metal hanger attached to the seat, then slid into the booth, still wearing her hat and scarf. The seat made an unattractive whooshing sound when she sat. “Have you ordered?” she asked, reaching for a menu. Not that she hadn’t memorized the menu ages ago, but she hoped she could delay the inevitable.
Unfortunately, her mother ignored the question entirely. “Guess what?” she cried, loudly enough that Kiera glanced around to see if anyone was staring at them.
“It sure is cold today,” Kiera tried, aware that her voice had an almost desperate edge to it.
Her mother laughed and plucked the menu out of Kiera’s hands, tucking it back in its holder. Kiera looked up, frowning. Her mother had never been beautiful, but she was striking, even now. The orange hair was cut ultra-short, except for a coquettish curl that dangled over her forehead. Freckles dotted her nose and cheeks, and though she tended to wear too much makeup on her eyes and lips, she never covered those freckles with foundation. Her eyes were russet, but recently she’d taken to wearing green contact lenses. No one would mistake that kelly green for her natural color, and yet somehow it suited her.
“No hiding, and no changing the subject,” her mother scolded, the smile never leaving her face. “I’m blissfully happy, and I want to share that happiness with my daughter. There’s no crime in that.”
Kiera leaned back in the booth and regarded her mother skeptically. “The last time you were this happy was when you thought you’d found the best get-rich-quick idea you’d ever heard of and you got ripped off by a stupid pyramid scheme. The time before that, if I remember correctly, was when you did that past life regression therapy and ‘discovered’ you were a reincarnation of Boudicca, the Celtic warrior queen.” Kiera’s cheeks heated with embarrassment on her mother’s behalf. “Then there was the time you went on your crusade to save the homeless and started inviting various drunks and junkies to spend the night in the warmth of your apartment and ended up homeless yourself when your landlord kicked you out.”
Her mother crossed her arms over her chest, no longer looking quite so gleeful. “Don’t forget the time I claimed to have slept with the Faerie King and borne his child.”
Kiera rolled her eyes. God, please don’t let her go on about that nonsense again. The only thing Kiera felt certain of about her birth was that her mom had been staggering drunk when she’d bedded down with her father—whoever he was. The man had probably been equally drunk. Kiera had no idea which of the two drunken nut-cases had come up with the Faerie King idea, but if she had to guess, she’d say her mom. Any way she could find to make her life seem more dramatic and important than it was, Cathy Malone would seize with a single-minded gusto.
“I don’t know how I managed to raise such a closed-minded cynic,” her mother said with a shake of her head.
It was all Kiera could do not to groan. There was a difference between being a cynic and being a realist, but her mom didn’t seem to make the distinction. And she never learned from her mistakes, either. But there was no point in arguing—Kiera doubted she’d be able to convince her mom the sky was blue if she took it into her head to say it was purple. And if Kiera allowed herself to get dragged into the craziness, this lunch could stretch until near dinner time. Kiera couldn’t afford that—she was meeting with a potential client at two.
A harried waitress finally arrived to take their order, saving Kiera from having to respond. Kiera ordered soup and salad. Her mother ordered a hot turkey sandwich and mashed potatoes. She would eat the whole thing, gravy and all, without gaining a single ounce. Her wild-eyed energy seemed to burn up the calories as fast as she could suck them in. The thought made Kiera even more grumpy.
“Well,” her mother said brightly, “it doesn’t really matter what you think of me or my way of life. Notice that one of us is sitting here with a big smile on her face and the other has a thundercloud hovering over her head. That isn’t a coincidence.”
Kiera folded her arms and felt like a sulky teenager. “I never said it was. You get quite a kick out of getting on my nerves, so of course you’re having fun.”
“Yes, dear, I live to make you miserable. Now, can I tell you my news, or would you like to sneer a little more first?”
Kiera was always amazed at how easily her mother shrugged off these little tiffs of theirs. Kiera would probably spend the rest of the day brooding about it, and here her mom was making jokes. Maybe if Kiera just humored her mom, they could quickly move on to saner, more normal topics and Kiera would manage to escape the diner in time to meet her client.
“I’ll wait until you tell me your news, then I’ll sneer some more, okay?”
Her mom flashed her an ironic grin. “Yes, I believe you will.” She paused dramatically before continuing. “I’ve found him,” she announced with great ceremony.
Kiera bowed her head and tried to suppress a groan. There was only one “him” her mother could mean. For as long as Kiera could remember, her mother had been on a quest to find “him.” In her mind, “he” was the Holy Grail, though Kiera thought it was more like one of those silly snipe hunts they sent you on in summer camp.
“So,” she said, not attempting to hide her sarcasm, “does Mr. Right have a name?”
“No, he’s an anonymous sperm donor. Did I mention I was pregnant?”
Kiera’s head jerked up, her common sense taking a quick coffee break while she thought for one fleeting instant her mother was serious. The waitress chose that moment to sling their food onto the table, breezing away before Kiera could remind her that she’d ordered the chicken soup, not the clam chowder.
“I thought I was the one who’s supposed to be gullible,” her mother said as she cut into her sandwich. “Of course he has a name.” She giggled like a school girl. “And, wouldn’t you know it, his name is Alonso Wright.”
That surprised a laugh out of Kiera. “Mom, that’s one of the oldest—and silliest—jokes in the world.”“Well, it’s the honest-to-God truth. Wright is a common last name, you know. And I’m sure Alonso has heard a million Mr. Right jokes in his lifetime. But just like I told you, sweetie, the moment I laid eyes on him, I knew he was destined to be my soul mate.”
Kiera’s stomach turned over at the sappy smile and the even sappier words. Her mom had dated quite a few men over the years, some of them for significant periods of time. Kiera knew at least two of them had proposed marriage. But although her mom had been fond of these men, maybe even loved one or two of them, she’d insisted that none of them was her mythical soul mate, her Mr. Right. Annoyingly, she had also declared that none of the men Kiera had ever dated was her soul mate either. Kiera wished she had married one of them and lived happily ever after, if only to prove her mother wrong.“And does Mr. Wright share your certainty that you are destined for one another?”
“Well, we haven’t exactly met each other yet, so no.”
Kiera stared. “You haven’t met him, but you’re sure he’s your soul mate. Mom, you’ve always been a goof, but this is a bit over the top even for you.”
Her mother wrinkled her nose. “I told you there was fey blood in our family tree—even before my little fling with your father. I’ve always had a little touch of magic, and I can tell you that Alonso Wright and I are meant to be together.”
“Uh-huh.” Kiera speared a cherry tomato and popped it in her mouth. At least if she was chewing, her mom wouldn’t expect her tooffer any encouraging commentary.
“Alonso owns the Old World Charm Café—you know, that new Italian restaurant, the little one that opened up right around the corner from me? I had dinner there last night, and the moment I set eyes on him, I knew.”
Kiera considered stuffing another bite of salad in her mouth to avoid this conversation, but her appetite was nonexistent. “You know I don’t believe in this Mr. Right crap, so don’t expect me to get all excited about it.”
“Of course not, dear,” her mother said with a wry smile. “But would it kill you to be happy for me?”
“I’d be thrilled if I thought you really had something to be happy about. Seeing a man and instantly deciding he’s the love of yourlife doesn’t cut it.”
“Kiera, honey, I know you think I’m just this side of certifiable, but even us crazy people occasionally get something right. Right here, right now, I’m happy, and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest.”
Envy twinged in Kiera’s chest. She wasn’t unhappy with her own life, even if she had to admit it was a little lonely at times. Loneliness was far preferable to the misery she’d endured during her last relationship, one she’d stayed in far longer than she should have. But it had been a long, long time since she’d been bubbling with happiness like her mom was now.
Happiness built on fantasy and wishful thinking doesn’t count, she told herself. She had a good, stable life, with none of the wildpeaks and valleys of her mom’s. She’d spent long enough in one of those valleys when she’d stubbornly tried to make her relationship with Jon work. And no peak was worth suffering the sickening plunge again.
Hunter glanced impatiently at his watch as he sipped his cooling cup of coffee and watched the ebb and flow of customers through the doorway. When he’d first moved into the apartment directly below Kiera’s, his plan had been nothing more sophisticated than to engineer chance meetings with her in the lobby and elevators, counting on his natural charm—and fey glamour—to draw her to him. However, during his first week of fact-finding and information-gathering, he’d learned she worked from home as a web designer, and that information had led him to a more pro-active plan of attack.
Hunter’s appointment with Kiera was supposed to be at two o’clock, but she was already fifteen minutes late. If he’d been a real client, he’d have gotten up and left by now. Patience wasn’t a virtue that was much valued in the Unseelie Court, and Hunter had to fight the urge to tap his foot on the floor or his fingers on the table.
The bell on the coffee shop door tinkled, and Kiera stepped in from the cold, her cheeks bright red from the wind’s bite. She was wearing the same ugly coat, the same hat, and the same scarf that she’d worn every time he’d laid eyes on her. He had thought perhaps she would dress more appealingly when meeting a client. He himself had chosen an expensive Armani jacket, paired with a silk shirt and Italian loafers. His black leather coat was draped across one of the four chairs at his table, and his hat hung on the side of the chair, looking much less rakish there than it had on his head. Of course, if Kiera had been here when he’d arrived, as he’d expected, he’d have been able to use the coat and hat to their fullest advantage, presenting the dark and mysterious image he’d so meticulously planned.
Kiera scanned the tables. He had not described himself to her, and he’d told her he’d recognize her from her picture on her website when she entered the shop. He let her examine each of the tables, hoping she was sweating and thinking her client had failed to wait for her. But when her eyes found his table, she stopped her search. Her brows drew together in just a hint of a frown, and he wondered if she remembered seeing him in the square the other day. Then she banished the frown and strode to his table.
“Hunter Teague?” she inquired, so sure she was right she was already pulling out a chair to sit down.
Hunter’s reply was half a beat late because he was so startled by her certainty. “How did you know?” he asked, hoping he sounded only mildly curious instead of annoyed.
She piled her motley array of winter wear onto the other empty chair, then shrugged. “Instinct, I guess. You look like your voice sounded.”
Hunter was struck momentarily speechless, not sure what to make of that comment. He tried to hide his discomfiture by taking another sip of coffee. It had gone cold and bitter, and he couldn’t help a grimace of distaste. She had only spoken two sentences, and already she had managed to put him off balance. Pushing the coffee cup away, he cocked his head at her. “Is that a compliment or an insult, I wonder?”
She looked surprised. “Neither. Just an observation.” The surprise vanished under a sweet smile as she stuck her hand out over the table. “Kiera Malone, at your service.”
Hunter suppressed a growl of frustration, for somehow Kiera seemed to have taken charge when he was supposed to be holding the reins. He’d planned to stand and give her a gallant kiss on the knuckles instead of a handshake when she finally arrived. The anachronistic gesture would have charmed and unsettled her in equal measure, and he would have firmly established his control. Now, however, it was too late to stand up, and he would feel silly kissing her knuckles when sitting down. Annoyed that his strategic choreography had been ruined so easily, he managed a winning smile as he clasped her hand warmly.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Malone. As you so rightly guessed, I am indeed Hunter Teague. Would you like a cup of coffee before we begin?”
Kiera brushed red curls out of her face and shook her head. “No, thanks. I’ve had so much coffee already I might float away. But if you want a warm-up, I’ll get you one.” She was already pushing her chair back before he had a chance to respond. “I’m buying, since I kept you waiting.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Hunter said stiffly, even as he tried to school his expression. He had meant to buy her a cup of coffee.
Kiera laughed. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those old-fashioned guys who think women should never pay for anything. I’ll write this off as a business expense. You drinking decaf or regular?” Once again, she didn’t wait for his answer. “Regular,” she said to herself confidently and was halfway to the counter before he could get in a word.
Hunter was glad there was a line at the counter, because he needed a little time to reassess the situation. He was ashamed of himself. Surely he could improvise better than this, even if she had spoiled his well-laid-out plans. Of course, he’d never tried to seduce someone on command before, so perhaps he wasn’t at his best. Besides, this was just the first meeting. He would do a better job of tailoring his sensual attack once he gained a little insight into her personality.
Hunter rallied his mental troops as Kiera returned to the table and set a fresh cup of coffee in front of him. She dug a yellow spiral-bound notepad and a mechanical pencil out of the bulging monstrosity of a purse she carried. He’d thought a professional web designer would take notes on an iPad or a smart phone. He found the pencil and paper both surprising, and strangely charming.
“So, Mr. Teague,” she said, “tell me a little about your business and about what you imagine your website will look like.”
“Please, call me Hunter.”
“All right,” she agreed easily.
“As I believe I mentioned on the phone, I’m a massage therapist.” He watched her face closely for her reaction, and was rewarded with a spark of interest. He’d chosen his fake profession with care, wanting something that would inspire sensual images in Kiera’s mind.
“You did mention it.” Her smile changed into something more like a grin. “You don’t look like any massage therapist I’ve ever seen.”
Aha, now he was getting somewhere. He took a sip of his coffee and raised his eyebrows. “Oh? What should a massage therapist look like?”
She was still grinning. “In my experience, they’re always these petite New Age women with hands so strong they could crush bricks.”
He put down the coffee cup and pushed it aside, leaning forward ever so slightly, letting his Faerie glamour surround him and reach for her. “Well,” he murmured, “I may not be a petite New Age woman, but I do have strong hands.”
He expected her eyes to get that smoky, glazed look women usually got when they felt the touch of his glamour, but Kiera remained distressingly clear-eyed. Of course, being half-fey herself, she was undoubtedly more resistant to glamour than the average mortal.
“What led you to such an unusual profession?” she asked.
Hunter tried not to be disgruntled by her failure to fall instantly under his spell. Luckily, he had invented an entire past for himself and had his lie ready to hand. “An old girlfriend of mine was in training to be a massage therapist. She practiced on me and taught me how to return the favor. I discovered that I had a knack for it, and that I enjoyed the work.”
The way she was looking at him was worrisome. He could tell at once that she doubted his story, though he didn’t know why that should be. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation. He wondered if he had made a tactical error in choosing massage as his profession. Perhaps it was too female-dominated an industry, and he was raising her suspicions by his unusual choice. But the possibilities were too tempting. If she resisted all his other charms, surely she would not be able to resist him when he talked her into sampling his services. Imagining her lying naked on the massage table stirred something deep in his belly. When he took the fantasy a step further, imagining his hands on the smooth, bare skin of her back, heat flooded him.
Hunter reached for his cup of coffee once more, startled by his reaction. Kiera wasn’t pretty enough to justify the lust she had somehow inspired in him. He wondered if she had a touch of Faerie glamour about her, despite being mortal. But of course, that couldn’t be. A half-blood could possess glamour—as Hunter himself did—but only if she’d gone to Faerie and partaken of food or drink. In which case she wouldn’t be mortal anymore.
Whatever doubts she might have had about his explanation, she banished them with a shrug. “So, you’ve recently moved here from New York, and you need to establish a new clientele.”
“Do you have a business card?”
“Of course. It’s my personal card for now, until I have my business up and running.” He pulled a gold business card holder from his pocket, flipping it open and passing a card across the table. He’d decided that the card should be plain and understated—let Kiera put her mind to the task of designing an image for him. The harder she had to think about the allure of massage, the more susceptible she would be when he moved in for the kill.
Kiera took the card and glanced at it briefly. She started to tuck it into her coat pocket, then pulled it out again and looked at it more closely. Her eyebrows shot up. “Why, this is the same building I live in!” she said.
“Is it?” he exclaimed in feigned surprise.
“What a coincidence.”
He smiled. “Yes. And a convenient one at that.”
She smiled in what was probably supposed to be agreement, but he could see at once that the thought of him living in the same building made her uncomfortable. He stored that observation away for future reference.
“All right,” Kiera said brightly, sticking the card in her coat pocket, “that gives me the essential address and phone information. Now tell me a little bit more about how you envision your website.”
He tried to look appropriately helpless. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t the faintest idea. When I was in New York, I built my clientele by word of mouth, and I haven’t a clue how to attract new clients through a website.” He smiled hopefully. “I was rather thinking that was where you came in.”
“Yes, of course. I just wanted to know if you had something in mind to begin with. What kind of image would you like to build?”
“Peaceful,” he answered promptly. “Relaxing. Sensual without being sexual.” He almost smiled to see the faint hint of color in her cheeks at his mere suggestion of sex.
Kiera scribbled a few notes, then stuck the end of the pencil in her mouth without seeming to notice she was doing it. “And what vital information do you need displayed?”
He launched into a detailed description of his “business” and his offerings. He’d read up on several forms of massage on the Internet, and had settled on Swedish and deep tissue massage as his specialties, as they seemed to have the broadest appeal. He’d called a number of spas in the area to inquire about the prices, making sure his own were reasonable. He’d even bought a couple of instructional books and videos, so he knew the basics of what he’d be expected to do. He’d had no one to practice on, of course, but he was sure the touch of his hands would be sufficient to hide any deficiency in his training.
By the time he was through, Kiera had covered several pages with scrawled, illegible notes, and had left many a tooth mark in her pencil. She was chewing on it again as she glanced over the notes, and Hunter found his attention riveted to her lips as she toyed with the pencil. Images came to mind, visions of those lips wrapped around something other than a pencil, and his cock stirred restlessly.
An interesting development, he thought, frowning. He’d assumed he would have to use plenty of imagination to arouse himself sufficiently to do his job, but Kiera seemed to be inspiring him all on her own. He couldn’t imagine why. Not that she was ugly. In fact, if she dressed more appealingly and made some effort to tame her hair, she might even be pretty. But Hunter had never before felt much attraction to mortal women who weren’t drop-dead gorgeous.
Kiera extracted the pencil from her mouth and nodded briskly. “I think I’ve got enough here to work with,” she told him, closing the notebook. “When do you need the project done?”
He gave her his most charming smile. “I am more concerned that the project be done right than that it be done fast.”
“All right. I can have some mock-ups for you in about a week. I’ll come up with three design schemes, then a couple sample pages for each scheme. You tell me which one you want to pursue, or if you want me to give you more options. Once we’ve agreed on a design scheme, we can talk about what else you might need. I can do business cards or a Facebook page or brochures. But all that comes after. Sound fair?”
“Sounds perfect.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out his wallet and counting out four crisp hundred-dollar bills.
Kiera blinked in surprise when he handed the money to her.
“We did agree on four hundred as a down payment, didn’t we?” he asked.
The surprise vanished under another of her lovely smiles. “Yes, of course. I just wasn’t expecting cash is all.” She took the money and tucked it into a pocket in her jeans. “You being a city boy, I wouldn’t have expected you to carry that kind of cash around in your wallet.”
“I pity any pickpocket or mugger who dares to mess with me.” He allowed a little of the savagery that was his birthright to show in his fierce smile. Kiera saw it and recognized it; he could tell by the almost imperceptible shiver that ran through her. If she was like most women, that savagery would both frighten and excite her.
Hunter rose smoothly from his chair, slipping into his leather coat and pretending he didn’t notice the effect he had had on her. She remained seated, looking uncertain of herself for the first time. He reached out to shake her hand, and she instinctively complied.
“It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Kiera,” he said, putting a hint of a seductive purr in his voice. Her palm was damp as he squeezed her hand, and he couldn’t help wondering if she was damp anywhere else.
She smiled, just a bit too brightly, the apples reappearing on her cheeks. “You too.”
Thinking that perhaps this reality was even better than the scene he had choreographed in his mind, he bent to press a kiss against her knuckles. His lips felt the tremor that shook her. She was falling already. As a Prince of the Unseelie Court, Hunter should have felt a glow of satisfaction at her reaction to him. He cursed the mortal blood he’d inherited from his father, the mortal blood that made him regret the pain he would cause her, instead of reveling in it. His life would be so much easier if only he could fully embrace the values of the Court to which he belonged; body and soul.
Releasing her hand slowly, he settled his hat on his head, and then swept out of the coffee shop.
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