Cursed by Fire — Chapters 6&7

April 5, 2018     Danielle Annett     Cursed by Fire

I’m late. That’s not really unusual but we hit spring break and I’ve been reviewing audiobook updates and Kissed by Fire proofs so it’s been hectic. Kissed by Fire should be out in about a week. I’m almost done reviewing proofreader comments so we’ll just need to format and upload. Cursed by Fire in audio is DONE! It will be live early next week. I’m out of town for Spring Break so the only thing holding me back is not being able to download the files from my audiobook producer and upload them to audible. Expect that very soon though.

I know you’ve all been waiting for the next Chapter for Cursed by Fire. Since I’m late…again… here are chapters 6 and 7.

Enjoy!


My boot-clad feet thudded against the wet pavement as I jogged to Hills Fitness Center, a short four miles from my apartment complex. My lungs burned with the exertion and reminded me that I wasn’t in as good of shape as I’d like. Something I definitely planned to work on.

The fresh air helped to clear my head and shake away the remnants of my nightmare. There were more important things to worry about than my past.

Like maybe a devilishly handsome neighbor.

“Down girl,” I told myself. If he was devilishly handsome, then the devil probably wanted him back, because that man had bad news written all over him.

The crisp fall breeze stung my cheeks as I turned the final corner leading to the gym. At the door, I entered in the six-digit lock code and waited for the light to turn green before opening it.

Grateful that James had given me his entry code. Having a friend who owned a gym had its benefits. After-hours access and free membership being two of them.

I enjoyed training when no one else was around to watch. It allowed me to really hit it hard, without worrying about what others would read into it. You could never be too careful these days. To any outsider, I was a human, and I liked to keep up that appearance whenever possible so as not to draw any unwanted attention.

Being a pyrokinetic didn’t get me inhuman strength or speed, but it did give me an accelerated healing ability and fire-power, of course.

Not bothering to turn on any of the lights, I used my memory as a guide to avoid stumbling into any equipment. I walked on silent feet towards the back of the gym and headed down an unassuming stairwell that led to the lower level, shedding my coat along the way.

At the base of the stairs, I flicked on the lights and illuminated the large space. Before me stood the gym’s open training room. Each wall lined with a variety of weapons. Everything from swords and axes to maces and scimitars.

Some were more for decoration than actual use, but the room reminded me of home nonetheless. My papa had been a weapons collector, though his collection was much smaller than James’.

I ran my fingers along the hilt of several swords to my left before finally selecting a talwar—a Persian sabre with a wickedly curved edge that ran thirty-three inches in length with a six-inch hilt.

I tested its weight in my right hand, and judged it in around forty-seven or forty-eight ounces. It was crafted to be a thrusting sword, a blade meant to kill in a single strike with deadly precision. With my weapon of choice in hand, I headed to the center of the mat and faced off with my imaginary opponent.

I closed my eyes, and I pictured an enemy on an open battlefield. The breeze whistled in my ears and the scent of freshly cut grass tickled my nose. Taking the time to visualize the scene made it that much more real, and in this moment, I had every intention of slaying my demons.

Far away from the gym and after inhaling another lungful of air, I opened my eyes and thrust the sabre in a fluid motion. I followed through with my strike while moving my feet to the left and twisting my shoulders to bring the sabre back for a second strike to my opponent’s back, coming from my right.

I repeated the movement several times until my body remembered the steps without conscious thought.

Sweat dripped from my brow as I changed up my movements and reversed my strikes.

Thirty minutes went by and my confidence in my ability to strike a would-be assailant from either angle rose. I began to parry and thrust, alternating directions. Left then right. Right then left.

I mixed my directions even further. Right, right, left. Left, right, left, and then right, left, right. Changing directions until no pattern remained.

Time blurred, no longer relevant in the haze of my imaginary battle. I was covered in sweat. My clothes stuck to the curves of my body like a second skin, and my breathing was labored as I struggled to catch my breath.

“Get it together, Ari—” I muttered under my breath.

I decided to give it one more round despite the fatigue plaguing my muscles and made a swift thrust to my right, digging in my heel, when all of a sudden my gaze caught on a dark shadow in the corner of the room.

My forward momentum came to an abrupt stop, and I lowered my sword. My heart pounded in my chest, and I caught the familiar steel-colored gaze of the man wrapped in the shadows of a dark corner. Dressed in a faded black tee and black denim jeans paired with matching boots, he looked predatory as he lurked in the darkened corner of the room.

I winced when I lifted my arm to wipe the sweat from my forehead with the hem of my shirt. The dull ache in my neck and shoulders from the vigorous workout told me I’d been down here for a while.

“I thought we were meeting up later?” I placed the talwar back in its resting place along the wall and watched James all but melt out of the shadows.

He made a look at his non-existent watch, then quirked his brow at me. “It is later,” he said, his voice thick like honey along my senses.

“Right.” I took a seat on the bench next to my jacket. James tossed me a bottle of water. Not bothering to question where he’d conjured it from, I twisted off the cap and drank half its contents in one long pull.

“Thanks.” I sniffed and got a whiff of myself. Phew. I did not smell like sunshine and roses today. I silently prayed James hadn’t picked up on my B.O. but with shifter senses, that was unlikely.

“No problem.” He shrugged and I could see his nose twitch before a slight smile crossed his features.

Damn.

“So just how much later is it now? I seem to have lost track of time down here.”

James stepped closer to stand about six feet in front of me. Looking down at me from his high vantage point, he said, “A little after eight. I stopped by your apartment before heading here. When I knocked and you didn’t answer, I figured this was your most likely destination.”

I nodded. The gym was practically my second home. I came by on an almost daily basis. Sometimes multiple times in the same day. The smell of sweat and leather was comforting and reminded me of the home I’d lost.

Dammit. I’d come here precisely to put away my demons. Not bring them back to the surface. Looking for a way to squelch the desperation that was suddenly rising in the pit of my stomach, I eyed James up and down.

“Puppy wanna play?” I quirked a brow and waited for his reaction.

The frown on James’ face told me he didn’t find me at all funny. That was okay, because I usually found myself hilarious.

“Shouldn’t we head over to meet with the Blackmores?”

All work and no play made me a really moody partner. Not that I voiced that thought aloud.

Instead, I shrugged my shoulders. “We don’t have an appointment, so it makes no difference. Besides, they’re grieving. I doubt they’ll be going anywhere.”

He seemed to ponder it for a few minutes. I was sore, and if it was already eight in the morning, that meant I’d been down here for close to three hours. But a sparring session with James was something I’d never turn down. He was one of the few who could give me a real run for my money. Though given that my past sparring partners were strictly human, that wasn’t exactly saying much.

I tilted my head from left to right trying to loosen my muscles and popping my neck in the process.

“You going soft on me?” I asked when James remained silent. “If you’re too tired, I understand. Maybe you should go back to bed, and I can pick you up around noon. I know how you like your beauty sleep. Like I said, the Blackmores aren’t going anywhere.”

I was goading him. Not the smartest thing to do to a werewolf, but despite my vigorous workout, my nightmare still weighed heavily on me, and I needed an outlet.

Taking one last swig from my water bottle, I rose from my seat and walked towards him. I stopped just inches away with an arrogant lift to my lips.

“Terms?” I asked. He hadn’t agreed. Yet. But he hadn’t said no, either, so I had a chance.

James rolled his shoulders and turned his head from side to side. Gotcha!

“Up to you,” he said.

I knew he wouldn’t pass this up. “No weapons, no claws.”

“Ah, you’re no fun.”

I shrugged, unconcerned. While a sword against James was almost a necessity, it would give him the advantage of shifting, and I was definitely not up for James in his wolf or between form.

His between form was a mix of human and wolf. A daunting and ridiculously formidable sight. Being a shifter alone would give James a huge advantage in the strength department. But at least in his human form he was less likely to tear me in two.

“No fire, then,” James added.

That was fine by me. I might be fireproof, but that didn’t mean I had a death wish. I wouldn’t risk lighting anything up in an indoor space knowing that the building could collapse, thus killing me.

Fireproof did not equal immortal. I’d learned that the hard way.

The ache between my shoulder blades was making me stiff. I inhaled deeply and exhaled through my nose. I pushed the slight pain in my muscles out of my consciousness. Pulling in several more deep breaths, I squared my shoulders and faced James. I waited for him to strike first, as he was doing with me. But eventually, James’ patience ran out, and he lunged. His arms were outstretched as he reached to grab hold of my shoulders. Twisting to the left, I sidestepped his reach while jamming an elbow deep into the center of his back before I quickly stepped out of reach once again.

James turned and liquid silver filled his gaze.

The wolf was coming out to play. This could get interesting.

I grinned and gave him a come and get me wave. James let out a bark of laughter before lunging again, this time coming in low, aiming for my stomach.

I launched myself into the air, narrowly missing his attack, and threw myself over him, rolling to my feet once my body hit the mat.

I wasn’t fast enough. As soon as my feet touched the floor, my body was propelled backward as James tossed me over his shoulder. Sonova—

I tucked in my knees and allowed the momentum to turn me in the right direction. My body landed in a low crouch several feet away. The impact having jolted through me in a sting of pain that began in the heels of my feet and reached up to my chest.

I heaved out a breath and swept the hair that had escaped my braid out of my face. The ache between my shoulders quickly blossomed into a full-on throbbing sensation. One I was having a difficult time ignoring. Standing up slowly, I strode to my right, watching James through narrowed eyes as he did the same.

This time, I attacked first. I faked a punch to his left flank before changing direction at the last possible second and struck him in the midsection. My knuckles popped and cracked as they met the hard steel of his abdomen. But I ignored the slight pain and landed a left hook to his jaw.

His head snapped back, but only for a second before he was on me, his full weight holding me down against the firm mat. Arching my back, I attempted to twist to my left in an effort to dislodge him. He held firm.

I jerked my head forward. But before my head could connect with his face, he pulled back just enough to avoid my blow.

I squirmed beneath him, already aware that it was no use.

When James began to chuckle, I halted all movement and glared up at him. His eyes were liquid silver, a beautiful metallic quality much like mercury.

If I could just get my hand free, I could gouge out one of those pretty orbs.

James had a wolfish grin on his face. Bastard thought he’d won.

“What are you so damn happy about?”

“I won.”

I heaved as my lungs struggled for air under his weight. “You did not win,” I gritted out. “This isn’t over.” I struggled some more and redoubled my efforts.

“Oh, sweetheart, it’s over.” He settled his weight more firmly against me. His body was like a lead blanket covering mine.

My chest was on fire, my struggles more erratic in my attempt to escape. It felt like a truck was parked on my chest.

James seemed oblivious to my struggles until I heard him cough, his grip on my arms suddenly tightening and his body holding very very still.

“Um, hey, Ari. You might want to stop doing that.” His voice took on an unusual, husky quality.

I ignored him and continued to squirm beneath him. I could break his hold dammit. I could do this.

“You did not win.” Defeat was not an option. Hell, I was tempted to cheat and just light his ass on fire.

“Ari, seriously. You need to … stop.” He growled deep in his chest. And that’s when I felt it. James’ body was hard against mine, unyielding. But what had me frozen in place wasn’t just his growl, or the weight of his body on top of me. It was the hard length of him pressed against my lower stomach.

Shit! I glared at him.

“Really, James?!” He thought now was a good time to get horny? Weren’t men supposed to have developed some level of control once they passed their teenage years?

“Hey, I’m a guy. You can only expect so much from me.”

Excuses, excuses.

He grinned, and I had the sudden urge to smack him upside the head. If only I could get my arm free. Right now I did not need my hormones getting the wrong idea, and my nether bits were starting to tingle. Yeah, they were getting the wrong idea.

“You going to get off of me?” I asked, rolling my eyes at his pleased expression.

In one fluid movement, James was off me and standing several feet away. He didn’t bother trying to hide the bulge between his legs, and at first I didn’t bother trying not to notice. But then reality hit. This was James.

I smoothed out the non-existent wrinkles in my shirt and readjusted my braid before standing up. Going for casual. Nothing strange happening here. My thighs were not instinctively tightening nor was my heart pounding in my chest at the prospect of having sex. Hot, delicious, sex. Nope.

“Umm, you ready to get moving?” I asked, avoiding eye contact.

James began to laugh, a deep rumble that caused me to jerk my head in his direction.

“God, Ari, you are such a prude.”

“I am not!” I snapped. I folded my arms across my chest. If only he knew the thoughts going through my head right now. Thank God he didn’t.

Still rocking his shit-eating grin he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, riiiight. Why don’t you go shower while I clean up here.”

I nodded and started to head towards the showers. “Better yet, I could join you,” he said, his voice rich like honey. He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, and I felt my mouth drop open.

Was he kidding? He had to be kidding.

James and I were in the friend zone. The unwavering friend zone.

My stomach clenched. Come on. Get it together.

James folded over and held his stomach, laughing so hard tears leaked from his eyes. “God, if you could see the look on your face,” he said between gasping breaths.

I whirled around and stomped the rest of the way towards the locker room. I had to walk past him, but managed to keep my head held high and my eyes straight-forward. When I was only inches away from James, I gripped his bicep and, bending my knees, pulled him over my shoulder as I tucked my body in. James sailed through the air and, caught off guard, landed in an ungraceful heap a few feet away.

He turned to me, a shocked smile on his face and a glint in his eyes. “You fight dirty.” He said it as though it were a compliment.

I continued on my way, not bothering to look back. “Try not to forget it.”


Chapter 7

I took a cold shower. It’d been too long since I’d been with anyone, but the last thing I needed was my mind straying to James. Dry spell or not, he was off limits.

This was all the sexy new neighbor’s fault. I had no problem keeping my libido in check until he came along.

Yeah. I was going to blame all of this on him.

I didn’t have many friends, and I couldn’t afford to ruin one of my few friendships just to get laid.

I sighed. It’d be a hell of a lot easier for my mind not to stray to the feel of his body against mine, his length pressed against my abdomen if he wasn’t so damn good looking.

No, Aria, just no.

I stepped out of the tile enclosure and quickly dried off. I threw my clothes on and re-plaited my hair, silently cursing my damn hormones. James was practically my brother. He was my go-to person second only to Mike. I fiddled with the leather bracelet around my wrist as I walked to the lobby to wait for him.

We had boundaries. Boundaries were good.

I looked over my shoulder when I heard a door open and watched James stalk toward me. The dark brown hair, chiseled abs, and steely grey eyes made him one fine specimen. He exuded sex appeal.

I groaned.

He could easily walk into a bar and have his choice of any woman in there. He’s like a brother, Aria, I reminded myself. Albeit a hot brother, a brother nonetheless. Maybe more like a stepbrother. I shook myself again. Hard.

It didn’t matter. Relationships were fleeting, and our friendship was something I’d never risk so carelessly.

“You ready to get going?” His lips curved as he waited for my response. The response I had yet to voice, because I was standing there like an idiot, staring at the black T-shirt molded to his perfect chest.

I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry. “Yeah, I’m ready,” I finally croaked.

I followed James up the stairs and through the gym as he led the way to the parking lot. The doors to the Mustang unlocked with a distinct click, and I climbed in the passenger side. After securing my seatbelt, I relaxed into the plush leather seat.

We rode in silence to the Blackmore residence. I was too exhausted from our sparring session to make any conversation. If I were being entirely honest, every time I went to say something, he’d glance my way with a sly smile, and I’d clam up and turn away, pretending to find something outside interesting.

He chuckled under his breath.

Fifteen long minutes later, we pulled up to the Blackmore residence, a charming three-story house. James left the engine running for a few moments while we each surveyed the neighborhood through the car’s tinted windows. The home was beautifully landscaped with those bushes people liked to groom into spires and little fairy statues scattered throughout the rose filled flower beds. Honestly, plants that needed a haircut every week weren’t worth the effort in my book. Though it seemed to be the expectation in neighborhoods like this.

The Blackmore house was your typical Veradale home. Narrow and tall with three stories, and gingerbread trim. It was situated within a gated community that gave the false impression of safety. One of those cookie cutter neighborhoods where all of the houses looked similar, apart from varying paint colors.

The meticulous slate pathway leading to the front door and the detailed molding around the windows screamed expensive.

We climbed out of the Mustang and made our way to the front door. But before I could knock, the door opened. A tall woman dressed in a sleek green knee-length dress stood before me. Her hair was impeccable. Styled in a fall of curls down her right shoulder. Large gemstones that looked to be emeralds adorned her ears, and her makeup was flawless against her alabaster complexion.

“Mrs. Blackmore.” My mouth gaped open, and I had to remind myself to shut it.

“Yes?”

“We’re sorry to bother you,” I said by way of greeting. I tried to shake the uncertainty that suddenly coursed through me, “but we wanted to speak with you a little more about Daniel’s disappearance and …” I trailed off. She knew her son was dead. I didn’t need to remind her of that.

A small frown creased Jessica’s brow, and she looked over her shoulder at the sound of approaching footsteps.

“I’m sorry, but this isn’t really a good time. We were just on our way out.”

A middle-aged man stepped up beside her. With a jerk of his hand, he forced her to open the door wider.

“Who is it?” he asked in a curt voice, as though he couldn’t see me standing right in front of him.

He wasn’t blind, was he? I scrutinized his face, but he didn’t have the tale tell milky whites of a blind man.

“It’s the investigator that was working on Daniel’s case. Ms. Ummm …What was your name again?” she asked, turning back towards me, an apologetic expression on her face.

The man glowered down at me. Nope, not blind. Just an asshole.

“Aria. Aria Naveed.” Obviously I hadn’t made much of an impression on her. Maybe I needed to get myself a Boss 302 Mustang so I could be seen and remembered, too.

“It’s Ms. Naveed,” she told her husband, even though he’d clearly heard me.

“Why is she here?” he asked distractedly.

Not wanting Mrs. Blackmore to continue playing the middleman, I focused my attention on Patrick Blackmore and answered him directly.

“I’m here to discuss the circumstances surrounding Daniel’s abduction and murder.” I kept my voice even and my expression pleasant as I watched him for any reactions. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, exactly, but something didn’t feel right.

“Why? It’s over. Done with,” he said in a gruff voice as he adjusted the burgundy tie around his thick neck.

I really wanted to pull on it and see if his face would turn the same color.

For some reason, I disliked him on sight. He had sleazeball written all over him, and I wasn’t particularly fond of the way he kept eyeing me up and down like some piece of meat.

I gave him a tooth-filled smile and a little bit of crazy eyes. I didn’t do well with creepy men leering at me, and if he didn’t stop, I wouldn’t be held responsible for my actions.

“No, Mr. Blackmore, it isn’t over,” James said from behind me. He took a menacing step forward, his tone laced with steel.

I corrected my expression, keeping it blank as Mr. and Mrs. Blackmore studied James over my shoulder. I could tell that neither one of them knew who or what he was. If they did, their expressions would have changed from annoyance to apprehension at the very least.

I was surprised by their reaction to my visit though. They had just lost a child. It had only been a matter of weeks since Daniel’s disappearance. And news of his death was brought to their attention only a handful of days ago, yet the two of them looked as if they were going out to celebrate.

These weren’t the grieving parents I’d expected to meet with this afternoon. Everyone handles grief differently, but their complete lack of emotion was off-putting, to say the least.

“We are Daniel’s parents, and we’ve decided that this case is over,” Mr. Blackmore bit out, his patience visibly running out. “Your services are no longer needed.”

James grinned. It was a feral smile full of teeth. The kind of smile most would consider friendly, but I knew better. This was the smile James showed people before he smashed their heads into pool tables and bruised every inch of their bodies. I’d seen it a few times over the past few months, and it never ended well for the other guy.

“What about Daniel’s biological father?” he said.

Jessica’s eyes widened, and her husband’s face deepened in color. Hmm … I didn’t need to pull on that tie after all.

“Who do you think—”

“Mr. Blackmore, allow me to introduce you to my associate. James Shields.”

I could tell that Patrick Blackmore still had no idea who he was, but Jessica did. As soon as I said his name, her skin grew pale. The pulse point in her throat drummed rapidly beneath her skin, her hands clenching and unclenching in an anxious gesture. One she was likely unaware of. She’d been with Eric Delaney long enough to have learned the who’s who within the Pack, and I’d put money on the fact that she knew James was the Pack Hunter.

I silently cursed. It seemed everyone had been in the know but me.

“I don’t care who you are—” Patrick said before his wife interrupted him.

“Patrick, please.” She placed a hand on his folded forearm. He looked down at her in irritation, and I could tell he was about to brush her off. I decided to jump in to keep him from slamming the door in our faces.

It was a very nice door, and I really didn’t want to have to kick it down.

“Mr. Blackmore, I believe that your wife is trying to warn you. Because unlike you, she realizes the significance of Mr. Shields’ presence. James is a member of the Pacific Northwest Pack. He is here on official Pack business. As I am sure you are well aware, Daniel Blackmore was a shifter. A tidbit of information the two of you failed to provide early on, which means the Pack has every right to investigate his murder, and you, sir, would do best to cooperate. I assure you that it’s in your best interest.” I said all of this in a sugary sweet voice with a businesslike smile on my face.

I hadn’t known that Mrs. Blackmore could go any paler, but she did. Her skin had taken on an ashen quality, and I made a mental note to watch her for any further reactions. There was something very wrong about these two.

Patrick seemed to digest my words. I could tell he was fuming, but he made the smart choice and opened the door wider, letting us in. Looking over my shoulder, I gave James a feral grin of my own and stepped aside to allow him to take the lead. I was slowly growing used to his irrational form of chivalry, so I followed him in without comment, all the while picturing lighting the hem of his shirt on fire.

I whistled softly to myself. It would serve him right.

Mr. and Mrs. Blackmore led us into a sitting room directly to the right of the entryway.  Everything in the room––the thick, Oriental carpets, heavy damask draperies, silk covered sofas—was refined and of quality material.  My hands itched around all of this finery. As I lowered myself onto a deep blue love seat, I luxuriated in the feel of the silky fabric, while another completely irrational part of me wanted to light the damn thing on fire.

Being a pyrokinetic was no walk in the park.

Once everyone was seated, we all stared at one another in silence. I honestly had no idea where to begin.

When I’d first met Jessica Blackmore, she was a distraught mother, tear tracks down her face and bruises beneath her eyes. But now … now she looked better than ever. I couldn’t wrap my head around the sudden change in her appearance.

I’d never met Peter Blackmore. But a man who easily had ten years on his wife, greasy hair, and a thick midsection, was not who I pictured for Jessica’s husband. She was beautiful in a classic way. Like a modern Audrey Hepburn. But after meeting the two together, it was safe to assume that she’d married for money. Times were rough. The Awakening had completely collapsed the economy, so wealth and even comfort were hard to come by for most.

Jessica seemed the type that wanted to be taken care of. I couldn’t blame her for that. But I could judge her all I wanted.

Silence hung in the air. Everyone unsure how to break it.

“Did either of you have anything to do with your son’s death?” James said.

I raised my brows and stared at him. I’d been thinking along the same lines but hadn’t anticipated him actually voicing the question so boldly. Nonetheless, I eyed both parties, waiting for a response. If the tension in the room got any thicker, we’d suffocate.

“Of course not!” Patrick said. His voice rose in outrage.

“No. I would never,” Jessica said in a more subdued tone.

James inhaled a deep breath through his nose and tilted his head to the side. He appeared lost in thought for a moment. Jessica twisted her hands nervously in her lap, and Patrick’s face was red with rage. He was on the verge of exploding and was holding onto his temper by the thinnest of threads.

Not that I cared. If either of these two had anything to do with Daniel’s death, I would make them suffer, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

“You have no right to come into my home and accuse either of us of foul play. We did nothing wrong,” Patrick said. He turned to his wife and rested a hand on her shoulder. For a moment I thought he was comforting her, but her eyes flickered with a hint of uncertainty before tears began flowing freely down her face.

The reaction was delayed. She was clearly faking it. But why?

“Now, you’ve made my wife upset. I’d like you to leave,” Blackmore bit out.

James stared at Mrs. Blackmore in silence, his gaze assessing. Every few seconds her gaze would flicker to his before she promptly looked away, her tears increasing. She was putting on quite the show.

I pulled one of my daggers out and began using it to clean my fingernails. Mr. Blackmore eyed my blade with equal parts apprehension and outrage. He wasn’t accustomed to being threatened, and he certainly was not used to losing control over a situation. Not that I was openly threatening anyone. At least, not yet.

“Mr. and Mrs. Blackmore,” I said, addressing them both. Jessica sniffled a few more times before wiping her face and pulling herself together. I had to give it to her—she was almost convincing. Almost.

“I’d like you to be aware of our investigation and know that we will bring down the individual or individuals responsible for Daniel’s murder.” I pinned both of them with a hard stare, allowing the meaning of my statement to sink in. If either of them had played any part in their son’s death, I’d make them burn for it.

They were supposed to be loving parents. There should be grief over their son’s death, not whatever this was.

Abruptly James stood up. “Thank you for your time. We’ll show ourselves out.”

I gave him a questioning look, but the slight shake of his head kept me from voicing the question out loud. Instead, I stood up, nodded at the two surprised individuals seated across from us, and followed James out the front door, not bothering to say anything else.

Once outside, James and I headed straight to the car. Once my seatbelt was buckled he started the engine.

“They were lying, weren’t they?” I asked him as he put the car into drive.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? I thought shifters could scent a lie?”

“We can,” he snarled and ran a hand through his hair. “But something is off about those two. Especially the mother. My wolf is fighting to get out. He’s angry and senses a wrongness in them. I’m not sure what it is. I’m having a difficult time keeping him in.” James tightened his hands on the steering wheel as we wove our way through traffic and merged onto the freeway.

“They know something. Their lie wasn’t outright. It felt more like a lie of omission.”

“You can scent a lie of omission?”

James shook his head. “It’s more of a feeling. I’m going to put a tail on them and see what that exposes. When they said they weren’t involved in Daniel’s death, that was the truth. I think. But when Blackmore said they’d done nothing wrong, that was a lie.”

Parents loved their kids, right? I didn’t have any children, so I had no idea what that was like. But I knew my parents loved me, and I’d thought Jessica loved her son. But that woman back there, she wasn’t the mother I’d initially met.

“Do you usually have problems containing your wolf?” I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing James lose control before, but I could see his skin start to ripple and knew a shift was close.

He gave me a sidelong look that said he didn’t like my question. I shrugged my shoulders and waited for him to answer anyway. I trusted James completely, but I was really hoping he’d get things under control. The prospect of being locked in a car with a wolf didn’t sound so appealing.

“No. I don’t have issues containing my wolf. Ever,” he ground out.

“Well, you’re obviously having issues today. I think you should get a handle on that before you go all furry on me.” I gave him a sweet, and what I hoped was an innocent, smile.

He cringed, so much for sweet and innocent.

I lowered the visor mirror and smiled at my reflection.

“What are you doing?”

“Admiring myself.” I smiled and then shrank back. It looked forced and a bit crazed. I tried again, this time pulling the corners of my mouth down just a bit.

Oh, not any better. At least I knew I’d mastered crazy.

“Are you smiling at yourself?”

I shut the mirror and put the visor back up before glaring at him. “Yes, I’m smiling at myself. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Seriously, Ari?” he said in a condescending tone.

“I just want to make sure I look normal when I smile, ‘kay? Can we move on now?”

James started laughing, a deep rumble in his chest, and I had to grit my teeth and cross my arms to keep from smacking him upside the head.

Idiot.