Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Hailey Edwards
eBook release date: October 31, 2015
Print release date: October 31, 2015
Black Dog Series
A Black Dog Novella
Mai’s plans for a weekend of cosplay fun and games at Fan Expo come to a screeching halt when a smokin’ hot fae with a vendetta against her father decides the best revenge is claiming her for his own.
Her father cost Ryuu everything: his home, his family…and his mate. Ryuu wants his pound of flesh, and he’s willing to take it out of Mai’s hide, bite by sensuous bite.
While she’s quick to bare her teeth and snap at Ryuu’s gentling hand, she sheathes her claws once he offers her secrets about her life and her father that rock the foundation of her world.
Caught between Ryuu’s tender persistence and her father’s iron will, Mai’s not sure who to trust, but before it’s all over this kitsune will show them both why she’s one stone-cold fox.
Titles available in this series include:
Stone-Cold Fox Excerpt
“That is seriously the most awesome costume ever. Jareth, right? From Labyrinth? Gender-bending costumes are the best.” A cute-as-a-button tween decked out in her Harley Quinn finest goggled at me. Humans were so sweet at that age. “Would you mind…?”
“You want to take a picture?” I cocked a hip and struck a pose, fist-sized crystal balls whirling across my fingertips. A lanky boy clutching a digital camera and wearing a green T-shirt with This is my costume. Ha-ha-ha printed on it tripped over his feet to move in for the shot. I’d like to think I had astounded him with my contact juggling skills, but it might have been my liberal use of spandex and leather. Smiling, I extended a gloved hand toward the girl. “Want to join me?”
Harley’s head bobbed, and I reeled her closer, flipped the blonde hairs from my wig off my shoulder and held my crystals aloft. Six retina-singeing flashes later, she bounded over to her partner in cosplay, checked the final product and shot me a thumbs-up.
“Would you like me to send you a copy?” the boy croaked. “We could, uh, swap emails or something.”
Behind him, Harley rolled her eyes and thumped his ear. “Don’t be a creeper.”
“I’m not creeping.” His cheeks flamed. “I’m networking.”
As they erupted into a pinch fight, I noticed their irises were the same mossy-green shade. Siblings. Can’t live with them. Can’t sell them into intergalactic slavery.
“I appreciate the offer, but I’ll pass.” I shot him a wink and tapped the side of my nose. “What happens at Fan Expo stays at Fan Expo.” Harley’s victory “Told ya so” was cut short by an ear-piercing whistle that made my teeth grind. I tracked the origin to a pearl-studded poof of white satin waving at me from across the lobby. “This Goblin King’s late for a contest. Bye, kiddos. Enjoy your weekend.”
Another shrill warning and I winced, shoulders ratcheting up around my ears. Gods that girl’s whistle could shatter the crystals in my hand. I wasn’t the only one recoiling. A gorgeous hunk of man grimaced at her from beside a dagger-and-whip display. Hard jaw. Deep-set eyes the rich color of burnished cherry wood. Black hair pulled tight in a queue draped over his shoulder. He wore jeans, mud-caked boots and a black T-shirt with a slate-blue button-down rolled up to expose his corded forearms. A ring of keys looped his index finger, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn one fit the ignition of a black 1967 Chevy Impala. A Japanese Dean Winchester maybe?
Our gazes clashed, and I broke out in tingles. One side of his mouth hooked in a lopsided smile that set my pulse racing. I was walking toward him, pulled to his side as if magnetized, when a third even shriller whistle broke the spell. A shiver rippled over my skin, and I muttered, “Down, girl” under my breath.
Sample the man candy later. First I had a contest to win.
Rolling my hips as I sashayed toward the aforementioned poof and past the aforementioned dreamboat, I drank in the sight of my very best friend doing me the favor of a lifetime. I knew it was the favor of a lifetime, because she’d told me as much every five minutes since agreeing to be my partner for the costume contest after I got dumped twelve hours before the Expo.
I should have seen it coming. Wargs had their own fated mate garbage to deal with. Heaping mine on top of his had been a deal-breaker, and we both knew it. I just wish he could have waited seventy-two more hours before splitting. I’d spent ten months sewing that damn Sarah dress. Ten months. My fingers were like Swiss cheese, my hot glue burn was still fading, and now—now I didn’t even get to wear it. My bestie got that honor.
There had been no time to cobble together a Jareth outfit for her and no point in wasting the time when I already owned one in my size.
As I neared Thierry, a frown crinkled her forehead, and her emerald gaze narrowed on a point behind my shoulder.
“Mai, oh Mai.”
I froze stiffer than Han Solo trapped in carbonite at the once familiar greeting. “Katsuo?” The name came out whisper soft, disbelieving. I spun, recognizing him in a heartbeat, and I threw myself into his arms. He caught me with an awkward hmph and a laugh that swelled my heart. “It really is you. It’s been so long. How have you been? What are you doing here? Duh.” I smacked my forehead with my palm. “Competing.”
“You know how it is.” He soaked up the spandex-clad crowd with a fond smile. “I can’t stay away from the scene for long.”
It didn’t slip my notice that he ignored my other questions, but I hadn’t seen him in years, and I cared more that he was here now than what had kept him away all this time.
“Have you gone on yet?” I tweaked one of the fuzzy ears sticking out of his snow-colored wig. Factor in the red haori jacket worn over an off-white inner robe, the matching hakama pants, and the Kotodama no Nenju. Yeah. I wasn’t the only sucker for classics. “Your Inuyasha is better than it was the last time I saw you.”
Inuyasha was the titular character in a manga series and its anime adaptation, a half-demon with doglike traits inherited from his father, and he was a favorite of Katsuo’s.
“It’s been eight years.” He spread out his fingers, exposing thick callouses. “I’ve mastered the art of the needle.”
“I’m impressed.” A throat cleared behind me. “Oh.” I snagged Thierry’s arm. “This is Thierry Thackeray, best friend extraordinaire.” I gestured toward the kitsune decked out in his anime-inspired getup. “Tee, this is Katsuo Tanabe. Our dads were friends back in the day.” At Katsuo’s wounded-puppy look, I amended, “We were too.”
Right up until the night he and his family vanished without saying goodbye.
“Nice to meet you.” Thierry glanced between Katsuo and me with one eyebrow arched, easily reading the weird vibe between us. “We’re running late. We should move this reunion to the hotel bar after the contest.”
“Or we could move this outside now,” a voice rumbled from beside my ear.
I glanced right and found myself face-to-face with Dean, who was holding a wicked-looking knife to Thierry’s left kidney. That same potent connectivity crackled between us, and my breaths came a little faster. “Nice prop.” I ran my finger along the underside of the blade suggestively then hissed when it sliced me open. My meter shot from interested to infuriated in three seconds flat. “What the hell is going on?” The creeping suspicion he wasn’t in costume, wasn’t here for the con, slithered through my mind. “Real weapons aren’t allowed.”
“Those rules are meant for humans.” His slow visual caress staked claim on me. “Not for us.”
A few of the humans in question noticed our gathering and drifted closer as they puzzled over what fandom mashup we might represent. As far as they knew, fae didn’t exist, which meant Dean had put careful thought into his choice of venue. He picked a location for this confrontation that backed Thierry and me into a corner without him lifting a finger.
Emerald light spilled from Thierry’s left palm. “Point that thing somewhere else or we’re going to have a problem,” she warned him.
“You won’t risk more than a light show in front of all these humans.” He angled the knife until my blood glinted on the blade. “They’re slow, but even they’ll figure out you’re the real deal if you leave husks from your kills behind.”
“When we’re around humans,” I insisted, “we play by their rules.” It kept us all safe.
“Then let’s remove humans from the equation.” He jerked his head toward the illuminated exit sign. “The parking lot is this way.”
“We’re not going anywhere with you.” I looked at him like he was crazy.
“You need to listen to him, Mai,” Katsuo murmured.
My old friend shifted in my periphery, and alarm bells clanged in my head. “Katsuo?” He stared at his feet but stood his ground. Katsuo was part of this? Was there no honor among cosplayers?
Dean’s blade parted the silky fabric covering Thierry’s bodice, and my gut tightened. “Don’t hurt her.”
“I know who her father is,” he scoffed. “I don’t have a death wish.”
His frankness caused my indignation to splutter, and confusion swamped me. “Then what do you want?”
“You,” he said with a possessive heat that flushed my skin.
“I know who your father is too, and he owes me.” A large hand cupped my jaw. “I’m here to collect.”
An eerie calm settled over me. I wish I could say this was the first time a kitsune had come at me to get to my father, but it wasn’t. I knew the drill, and I wasn’t going gently into any good night.
That left me with two options, and both sucked. Option one: exit quietly then whip out the teeth and claws away from mortal eyes and their well-meaning interference. Option two: scream for help, drag humans into a fae matter, get brought up on charges by the conclave for risking exposure to said humans, and then bend over to kiss my foxy ass goodbye.
One of these things sucks less than the other…
“Do as he says, Tee.” I made the call when she hesitated. Her mom was human, and she had a soft spot for mortals. The guilt would gnaw at her if she got one injured while trying to protect me. “We don’t want any innocents hurt.”
Thierry’s fierce grin bolstered me, and she flared her light for an instant before snuffing it. “I don’t mind relocating the party.” Teeth bared, she smiled at Dean like the predator she usually hid so well. “The smaller the audience, the fewer the casualties.”
Katsuo took my arm, and Dean placed a hand at Thierry’s waist to hide the pressure of his blade against her side. Our quartet exited the building, and Thierry and I allowed ourselves to be herded toward a bricked-in Dumpster enclosure that sat empty, its container pushed against the rear of the convention center. A tiny voice in my head warned of the high probability these two had scoped the area and done their prep work first, like removing the Dumpster and securing this scenic spot for our chat.
I caught a whiff of the pungent refuse sliming the concrete pad and balked, but Katsuo hauled me in after him. Waiting until the brick wall concealed us, Dean snapped, “Do it.”
Katsuo reached into the folds of material at his side and produced a gun he aimed at Thierry. Such a mundane solution to their problem. I didn’t expect it. Shifters preferred teeth and claws to weapons. Thierry was good, but she was far from bulletproof. Twisting Katsuo’s arm in a vicious arc, I broke free of him and threw off his aim. He misfired once, and I leapt for Thierry. Lucky number two hit home. Stinging pain radiated from my shoulder blade down my spine, and I landed in a heap on the sticky cement. The world spun beneath my cheek, my consciousness unwinding thread by thread. In slow motion, I shoved onto all fours then rose to my knees. A third distinct pop of displaced air rang out. Direct hit. Thierry crumpled in a heap with a dart protruding from her neck. A dart. Not a bullet. I almost laughed with manic joy. Thank the gods. We might survive this after all. Now that I comprehended my loopiness was drug-induced and not the product of blood loss, my inebriated optimism skyrocketed.
“Tee.” I stroked her cheek. The sedative hit her faster. The dart I intercepted must not have fully compressed. She was out cold when I shook her shoulder. “It’s all right. I’ll get you out of this.”
“You shot Mai.” Dean’s snarl echoed in the confined space.
“She jumped in front of the gun,” Katsuo snapped. “I couldn’t stop time and pluck the dart from the air.”
Turning his back on Katsuo, Dean squatted in front of me, dismissing Thierry as a threat that had been neutralized. The curve of his jaw flexed, and he flicked the thick rope of hair that had been hanging over his shoulder behind him. Those eyes, bottomless and hard, fixated on me. Frightening. Yet they seemed so familiar. Dean. I was being abducted by a Dean Winchester wannabe, which would have been five-alarm hot minus the whole abduction thing.
I tilted my throbbing head back to make eye contact. Bad idea. Bad. Idea. He reached for me, and I snapped at his fingers. Even sedated, I was faster than he expected, and I ended up sinking my teeth deep in his wrist instead. A coppery tang filled my mouth, and smug satisfaction warmed my gut.
“Color me surprised,” he mocked. “A Hayashi with a spine.” He gave me a nudge, and I fell against Katsuo. “Secure her.”
Hands clamped around my rib cage, almost under my armpits, and Katsuo promised, “I won’t hurt you.”
“Thierry,” I wheezed as he lifted me and tossed me over his shoulder. “You can’t leave her out here. I’ll behave.” For now, I mentally tacked on. “I promise. Just take her inside. Please.”
A scowl cut Dean’s mouth. “I’m not a barbarian. Your friend will be well taken care of.” He gestured, and another male smelling of kitsune trotted over. “Take Thierry to their room.” He smoothed a hand over my butt all in the name of locating my keycard. “Here. The room number is three-oh-four. Stay out of sight, but keep an eye on her. If she’s not up and walking around in an hour, call the conclave for a pickup.”
“Will do.” The man bent and scooped my best friend into his arms. “I’ll follow as soon as I’m able.”
Fabric smelling of musk and sweat brushed my lips. Dean shoved it past them into my mouth while I was distracted with Thierry, and tied the material tight behind my head. “Forgive me if I don’t trust your promises.”
Smart man. “My dad will hear about this,” I mumbled through the cloth, kicking my legs until Katsuo clamped a hand behind my calves to restrain me.
Dean wound a second layer of fabric around my head, and then a third, before he muted me. His breath hit my nape, and hairs rose down my arms. “Oh, I’m counting on it.” Husky laughter rolled over my skin, and my inner vixen perked up her ears at the sound. Traitor. A sour feeling blossomed in the pit of my stomach that was more than Katsuo’s bony shoulder. “I wouldn’t want him to miss his little girl’s big day. Cooperate, and I might even let him walk you down the aisle.”
Katsuo lurched into motion, and I struggled to catch my breath. He rounded the corner too fast, and I banged my head against the edge of the brick wall while straining for one last glimpse of Thierry. Pain wilted me, and I slumped down his back as he carried me away. Thanks to the dull throb in my temples, I couldn’t tell if that hammering in my head was my pulse or if those were distant wedding bells I heard ringing.