New space, new start. I struggle to let Soren’s words take root in my mind. New space, new start. Sandals off, I walk a few steps to the small patch of grass in the brick-paved courtyard. Connection with the earth grounds me. Solar-powered garden lamps illuminate my bare feet under the swishing hem of my dress.
Eyes closed, I focus on the trickle of the water fountain, attempting to let the sound wash away the tightness in my chest. One second my skin flushes, the next it chills.
I thought I could do this, that I was ready to move past my spectacular failure. Yet the urge to sneak around the building to my car and drive far, far away fissures through my courage. My toes curl into the damp grass. I’d be letting more than myself down if I run away.
This is my job, my calling, my purpose.
Doubt bristles in the back of my mind. My first matchmaking business ended because a woman ended up dead. Brutally murdered by the man I had told the woman was her perfect match. And he was. The cold chills return.
Before my last client was murdered, I’d never imagined that using my hedge magic to unite soulmates could be anything but good. And nothing in my process told me her soulmate was also a psychopath. It took a long time to trust my abilities again. I’m still not sure if I do.
Warm hands belonging to one of my mates slide over my shoulders while strong thumbs work to relieve the building tension. The scent of autumn rain settles over me like a cloak. I lean my head against Soren’s shoulder and draw strength from my gargoylmancer’s calming presence. If only I believed in myself as much as he believes in me. He found this new office space and hired the crew that made it into a tranquil place for me to welcome new clients. The new space for my new start.
I nuzzle against Soren’s neck. The ash-blonde stubble along his jaw grazes my skin in a delightfully distracting way. Less than twelve hours ago, that stubble rubbed against my inner thighs. Apprehension settles as darker ideas surface.
“That’s better.” His voice rumbles through his chest. “You’re ready for this.”
I pivot inside his embrace to face him. At 5’10”, I’m just an inch shy of his height. I peer directly into his eyes, which shift erratically through a spectrum of colors, depending on which winged creature his multivision is connected toe. Right now, sapphire swirls through onyx and green.
“Actually, I was thinking about last night.” I rake my thumb over his stubble.
“I knew there was a reason I didn’t shave this evening.” He captures my hand and nips my wrist. The pinch of it shoots through my arm and to my breasts. It almost disarms my worry.
I toy with the collar of his black shirt. “I can’t stop thinking about my last client. She’d still be alive if it weren’t for me.”
“You have no way of knowing that. According to the news reports, he hunted women who looked like her, down to the nail color. He was already searching for her, and there’s a good chance he would have found her eventually.”
The impatient moon, out before it’s fully dark, gilds Soren with silver-blue light.
“But he didn’t. I sent her right to him. I should have known there was something off about her mate.”
“Not without a different kind of foresight than yours. Besides, I’m your eyes now.”
Soren officially works for me—background checks, security, whatever I need to make sure that particular tragedy never repeats.
“I might not be able to divine any more. It’s been over a year. Finding the right memory and coaxing it away takes finesse. If I take too much, it has the potential to alter personality. If I don’t take enough, I get this nagging sense of incompletion. No, that’s not the right word. It’s more like missing limb syndrome. Plus it can wreck the process.”
“Then just make another appointment to get the rest of the memory.”
“Memories are delicate, fickle things. Once fractured, they begin to fade fast. There’d be nothing left for me to glean. And without a full and complete memory, there’s no way I can pinpoint a mate. What if…”
“No what ifs, Nya.” Soren runs his fingers through my loosely curled, auburn hair as he speaks. “Your affinity for connecting mates with each other is strong. Look at us. I searched for you for decades. You found me the same day you sought to find your mate.”
“That’s not exactly how it happened.”
“Close enough. This is a new place. A new start. We are all cheering you on. Your success is our success.”
Tingles race along my scalp, down my neck and, and across my shoulders. “Your confidence is almost contagious. You know, there’s the Romance Readers Rendezvous coming up next Thursday. I bought a table last year, before everything…”
“I don’t see how that’d benefit you. Unless you have a book I don’t know about.”
“It’ll be full of people open, maybe even hoping, to find love. I was planning to do tarot reading. Maybe I should just set out some flyers instead.”
“No, tarot is perfect. People connect to a person, not pieces of paper sitting on a table. You should go. My Heart, I’ve never known you to fail at any task you set your mind to.” He presses a kiss to my forehead. “Your client will be here soon.”
“Twenty long minutes. I thought arriving early would give my nerves time to settle.”
He runs his hands along my shoulders and down my arms. “It appears our efforts last night to help you relax didn’t take?”
“It took, but—”
He silences me with a soft kiss on my top lip, followed by another on my bottom lip. With the next one, the tip of his tongue traces the seam of my mouth.
My mind flashes back to what Soren and his wicked mouth did to me last night. My lips part in a gasp. He closes his mouth over mine, a welcome invasion as he explores all the soft, sensuous places. Each stroke lights a fire inside me until I melt in his arms.
At the center of the courtyard, the trickle of water in the fountain swells to a stream as if in response to my own lust. Both are Soren’s doing. Water responds to his command; I respond to his touch.
“Better.” He loosens his embrace and steps back. His eyes are the palest shade of gray. His natural color. The one that means his entire focus has settled on me. He is mine alone.
“Soren. No. You can’t go now.”
His gaze rakes over me like I wish his hands would. His eyes practically glow with want, and there is no hiding the desire bulging at the front of his blue jeans. Soren is short, but not small by any means. The thought of his arousal makes my mouth water. He pleasured me so well last night that I fell asleep before I had the chance to return the favor. He won’t deny me again. He tugs the hem of his shirt and takes another step back toward the door.
“I should go.” His voice takes on a gravelly edge that makes my nipples perk.
Soren has ironclad willpower in many ways. Many, but not all. I shift my weight to one hip and let my head tilt back ever so slightly.
“I want what’s mine.”
“Your client could arrive at any time.”
Ten minutes, minimum. “Is Zyr here?”
“If the client shows up early, I’m sure he’ll have her wait in the lobby. Now, get over here.”
“Bossy,” he says, even as he saunters toward me.
Impatient, I close the distance between us and cup his erection through his jeans. Through our Bond, I feel a rush of lust flare inside him.
Air escapes between his teeth as he juts his hips. “Does my Heart have needs?”
“You wore me out before I could get my fair share of you.” I lift the hem of my dress enough to keep it from getting crushed into the grass when I go to my knees. The grass tickles my bare skin.
“Let me take care of you.” Soren hooks his hands under my arms.
I unzip him and his length springs free, along with his heady, musky scent. Like a brewing storm.
I lave the crown with small, irregular flutters while stroking his length. His breaths grow heavier. Through our Bond, I sense the ecstasy Soren experiences from every swipe of my tongue. After he gives me the pearl of taste I’ve been craving, I close my mouth over him. I love the solid weightiness of him.
He gathers my hair in both hands and holds it atop my head as he gazes down at me with so much affection—emotions bigger and beyond lust—that it makes my heart ache.
That look right there is why I became a matchmaker. Everyone deserves to have someone look at them with such utter admiration and love. I shift my position to take him deeper and quicken my strokes. His grip tightens in my hair.
“Mmmhhmm.” I hum around him.
His knees almost buckle. “You naughty girl. I’ll make you pay for that later.”
I pull away, lick my lips. “Perhaps, but right now…” I take him again and suck hard.
His hips seek the same rhythm as my mouth. His hands tighten in my hair. Bliss strums through his body, and in turn through mine. So close. Both of us.
I graze my teeth along him. He lets out a low growl and cums for me, his face a beautiful portrait of pleasure bordering on pain. My fingernails dig into the backs of his thighs as the energy release from his orgasm ricochets through me. I swallow once, twice, and then let out a satisfied moan of my own.
While he tucks himself away, I sit back on my haunches, sated. I swipe the corners of my mouth with my finger—most things with Soren are extra.
Face tilted to him, I ask, “Did I get it all?”
“Not yet. But we’ll have more time later.”
He helps me stand. “That’s why you keep me around.”
“One of many reasons.”
We turn to head inside. I freeze at the sight of the two men standing at the window. Another of my mates, Zyr, and a stranger. Between the shock on the other man’s face, the lust burning in Zyr’s eyes, and the frost spreading on the glass in front of my ice demon, the two men have obviously seen what Soren and I were up to. Heat sweeps across the back of my neck knowing that a stranger has witnessed such an intimate moment.
I speak to Soren through a plastered-on smile. “Who’s that with Zyr?”
“The master carpenter.”
I relax. Whereas my ice demon most likely heard everything, the human’s average hearing wouldn’t have picked up on anything. If only the same thing were true for sight.
Gaze locked on me, Zyr slides open the glass door and stalks across the patio with the predatory gait of a giant Nordic warrior while he loosens his pinstriped tie.
Without a word, he clasps my face with his large hands and bends to kiss me deep and hard and thorough. Tingles of coldness without the bite of pain spread from his palms to my cheeks and down my throat. He tilts me back to keep his mouth meshed with mine and pulls me into the length of his hard body.
Cool air swirls around us, slipping under my dress in a full-body caress that homes in on my breasts and my now aching and needy nipples. Zyr often brings me to orgasm with his frost play. Which would have been fine if only a stranger wasn’t standing with us on the patio. As much as I want to lose myself in Zyr’s attention, I pull away. We are both breathing hard.
“No one notified me that there would be sex,” Zyr says.
I place my palm on his chest. The muscles beneath his black suit vest flex to my touch.
“There is no…” I glance around him to the master carpenter, who feigns interest in positioning one of the wooden patio chairs at a precise angle. Embarrassment melts the coolness from my ice demon’s touch. “No sex.”
Zyr’s tongue darts across his lower lip, and he looks from me to Soren and back.
“I mean, we didn’t plan on it. It just happened.”
“She needed help relaxing,” Soren offers.
The wooden chair scrapes against the brick. The human makes direct eye contact, which must’ve been by accident because he blushes and immediately looks away. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a man so flustered. Adorable.
“We haven’t met,” I call to him. “I’m Nya, the owner.”
“I’m Logan, master carpenter.” He reaches out to shake my hand but pauses with a glance at Soren. Moments earlier, my hand was wrapped around Soren’s dick and Logan knows it. Saw it. He fully extends his hand anyway. His rough, calloused palm warms my hand with a gentle yet firm squeeze.
“Do I call you Master?” I immediately regret the joke meant to lighten the mood.
“If you want.”
“I really love the work you’ve done with the place. The four waiting rooms are so different, it’s like a mini international tour.”
“I had a lot of input from Soren and Zyr and someone named Conor.”
When Zyr tugs me away, I realize I’m still holding Logan’s hand. The loss of his touch feels like an unfinished conversation. I rub my hands together to assuage the sensation.
“I assured Conor we had everything under control, but you know how he can be,” Zyr says.
His possessive embrace doesn’t go unnoticed by Logan, and for some reason, even though I have more than my fair share of men, it thrills me.
“I definitely see his influence in the high-end furnishings. Can we really afford this?”
“No.” Zyr handles our financials with fierce attention to every last penny.
“What he means to say is we got this place for a steal. Once humans started moving out and parakind started moving here in numbers, I put ears and eyes in this neighborhood.” Soren gestures toward the surroundings.
His gargoylemancer’s multivision allows him to see through the eyes of gargoyles, as well as other creatures with wings. The ability is uniquely his. It doesn’t draw from our Bond when he uses it.
“As expected, real estate prices in this area plummeted, and when this building went on the market, I snatched it up.”
“Eventually, once we’re back in the black with this place in about two years, we’ll renovate the upstairs.”
“Keep me in mind when you’re ready. I’ll cut you a returning customer discount.”
Zyr perks. “I’d like a discounted rate.”
Onyx streaks through Soren’s eyes like a shadow. “Your client has arrived, but she’s just sitting in her car. It looks like she’s talking to someone on a Bluetooth, or maybe she’s just talking to herself.”
“Sometimes clients are nervous before sessions.”
“I hear you’re a matchmaker for parakind.” Logan’s deep brown eyes remind me of a lost puppy.
“Oh yeah? Maybe I’ll stop by sometime. Book a session. I have the worst luck when it comes to dating.”
“Keep me in mind when you’re ready,” The sadness I sense deep inside him most likely stems from years of searching for his mate. Knowing what that’s like compels me to help him. “I mean it. I’ll give you a ‘company carpenter’ discount.”
Zyr bristles. “You’ll receive no discount on matchmaking fees.”
The front door chimes. Even though it’s a gentle reverberation, I startle.
“I better go freshen up. Soren, will you greet my client? Her name is Daciana, but she goes by Daci.” I pronounce it Dah-chee, the way she said it on the phone.
Soren’s pupils swell to almost solid black as he uses a statue to see out front. Before heading inside, he kisses my temple.
“I’ll go collect payment.” Zyr curls his fingers at Logan. “It’s time for you to go.”
Logan chuckles, most likely at Zyr’s curt behavior, and glances over his shoulder at me. “I wish you great success either way.”
I’ll take all the luck I can get. With a deep breath I head inside. Unlike last time, I have Soren, Zyr, and the others now. I don’t have to do this alone. I’ll help Daci find the love she’s seeking.
New place. New start.