The endless river of headlights and taillights flowed through the night.
Connor visited with the girls, griping about vacuum cleaners and bosses who went for blowjobs but not from him. Carlotta was right, it really was a slow night. Babs got called out and left. The little girls wandered off on the arms of some young men out slumming, one wearing his college letter jacket. Connor didn't move from his streetlight.
"You gotta dress hotter," Carlotta said. "Nobody wants Mr. Ikea in this neighborhood. You need a look, baby." She took a long drag on her cigarette, her Adam's apple moving when she swallowed. "Something sexy and slutty, something that says you're the hottest piece of tail on the block and suck better than those shitty vacuums you can't sell."
The red Corvette passed again but slowed down curbside this time. The tinted passenger window lowered. A man's hand, holding a hundred-dollar bill between the index and middle fingers, beckoned. "You, boy," came the low voice from inside it.
"Go on, baby boy. Make the rent." Carlotta waved him into the car as Connor hesitated. Something felt wrong, although he'd done this exactly the same way a dozen times before.
He had to keep living indoors, and this trick would help. Connor got in the car.
"We've got a stray bucking the system—went to college and decided that Pack is passé. He's causing ripples among the teenagers."
"Oh, no, not that." Dirk gave Lindsay a wink. He kept aloof from the Pack himself. He wasn't like other wolves. Of course, he got away with it in part because his sister was married to the Alpha.
Boston growled. "Don't mock. There's a petition going around asking me to 'dispense with the archaic ritual scraping and bowing to the Alpha'."
Dirk made an effort not to show his amusement; he could see how that would be a problem, even if it was funny from the outside. It wasn't a matter of blind obedience—it was a matter of safety. Compared to most of the population, Lycanths were powerful at their weakest, able to challenge and hurt humans, not to mention expose the Pack. The rules existed for a reason: without the rules, humans could be hurt, and the balance that let them live alongside the general populace would be toppled. There would be repercussions for that. "So what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm not." Boston gave him an evil grin. "You are."
He hated his agent.
Bernadette had found him. At the time, with one book on the shelves and a few articles out in a handful of lesser-known magazines, he'd barely thought about getting an agent. He knew he should, at some point. He knew that it would be useful to have one to handle all the things he was horrible at, but that was all he'd thought about it until Bernadette had called. She'd given him the sales pitch and promised many wonderful things. He'd said no, thinking it was some kind of scam. She'd insisted. He'd hung up. There was a process to that sort of thing, a process that Bernadette ignored because she liked the way he wrote and saw potential. She'd called his parents. Apparently, she knew his uncle. His parents had told him how nice it was that he was working with a family friend, and somewhere in the midst of all of that, she'd become his agent.
He regretted it every day.
It wasn't that she was bad at her job. She was the best. She got him amazing deals with top publishers. Big name guys, not just the academic presses he'd been dealing with. She'd gotten his name out there and also gotten him this job.
Which he hated. Mostly. Sometimes. There were some parts of it that weren't all bad. It paid his bills and gave him healthcare.
As much as he hated having to deal with Ellen and Larry, drab cubicles, and all of the office gossip, there was one thing about his job that he really loved. He got to write about truly interesting people: people who existed beyond the normal dull and dreary spectrum and shined. People not like him. People who lived their lives like it mattered, like there was one thing they were born to do and so they were out doing it. He got that, kind of. It was like him and writing, and yet the people that he talked to all made it sound so amazing. It was never amazing to them—to them it was ordinary, mundane—but to him it was spectacular.
That was how he ended up meeting a man rumored to be one of the most notorious gangsters in Chicago's history.
After waiting as long as he possibly could without drawing attention to himself, Matt entered the locker room and hurried to his own locker, keeping his eyes down.
In the brief moment between removing his gear and pulling his own clothes on, Matt's ass flared with a sudden, sharp burn. The snapping sound caught up with his ears a moment later, and he spun around while still trying to pull up his pants, almost falling over himself in the process.
Dylan stood there, shit-eating grin firmly in place and his towel still held loosely in one hand. Matt couldn't help a glance down to Dylan's bare, wet chest before tearing his eyes away. Stunned into silence, Matt gave up on the idea of a witty retort and turned back to his locker, more eager than ever to finish dressing and get out of there.
"Oh, don't be like that Matt. It's the upperclassman's prerogative to hassle the frosh. You're lucky you're not getting the same initiation they were dishing out my first year. I got paddled until my ass was bright red, and I could barely sit for a week!"
Matt felt his face heat as he listened to Dylan's story. The mental image of Dylan bent over bare-assed would be burned into his mind's eye for the rest of his life; his dick twitched at the thought. He was sure his face was getting as red as Dylan's ass had been.
Isak crouched to bring his face level with Sain's. It was a mistake; being so close to the witch was... powerfully distracting. Isak looked into his eyes and past them and concentrated on keeping his words cool and steady.
"I'm trying to spare you pain. The sooner you confess to me, and turn your back on these unnatural practices, the sooner—"
"You'll take me out to the scaffold?"
"Hanging has always been the penalty for murder. It's the eternal penalty for witchcraft I'm trying to help you escape."
"By racking me until I agree to give it up?" Sain pulled a mock-studious face, turning his eyes up and pressing the tip of his tongue to his upper lip in thought. Isak could have slapped the expression away, but caught himself in time. Violence might reach Sain, but not if it revealed how close his Confessor was to losing his temper.
"I don't believe either of us wish to see you racked," he said. He picked up the dolly with the tips of his fingers and dropped it in his pocket. Wisps of straw had stuck to the wax, but Isak didn't want to be seen picking them out. "Perhaps you have enough to think about for now. I'll return tomorrow to accept your confession, if you choose to make it."
"And if not?"
"Then I will persevere until you do."
The lord of the mound emerged from behind a watercolor wash of gold.
Ronan blinked the shimmering out of his eyes and felt it fall as tears. Shameful, he'd chide himself, if he had any room left for shame. Which he didn't. Not in this place.
Not with these... things. These capricious old gods.
Shame or sanity—he couldn't have both. He could present himself for sacrifice and let them strip away the most precious parts of him for the night, or he could fight them and be gleefully and forcefully dismantled forever.
Ronan didn't know much about the old stories, but he knew enough. He knew that the sidhe could be placated, tricked, bargained with, worshipped—and for his part, he was doing a little bit of each—but they couldn't, couldn't, couldn't be denied.
Shutting his eyes again, trying uselessly to black out the gleaming galaxy of visual excess that formed this domain, he let his mouth caress the inside of his lord's ankle; he was too tiny and worthless to attempt higher without invitation or orders.
Invitation or orders. He wondered which method his lord would favor tonight.