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Rick took one look at the woman window-shopping then did a double take. While his mother had ingrained into his thick head that lust led to Hell but after ogling the female in dusk's light for a moment more, he figured Hell would be worth it.

The woman suddenly smiled at him through the window, batted her big brown eyes at him. She was beautiful, exquisite. She looked like a china doll: ivory skin, big doe eyes, thick lashes, a full, pouting mouth, long curling chocolate hair. Rick swallowed the unbidden thought of his wife, Freesia. The woman entered his shop.

She took her time browsing the shop then she approached the register, empty-handed. Rick summoned his best smile for her, bemused.

"Can I help you?" Rick asked, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste to the register. Some delicious scent radiated off of her skin like a type of pheromone. Rick swallowed his thoughts and the erotic image of them together. He bit back a groan as his cock jerked. The woman's smile widened.

"I'm sorry. I just couldn't help myself." The woman took a breath, her thick lashes fluttered. "You just looked so alone in here." Her thin hand splayed delicately on the glass countertop. Rick found himself imaging that hand and it's mate roving over his flesh. The woman sighed and looked deep into his eyes.

Leigh weighed her father's death in her head. He hadn't just died, he'd been murdered, his bloody throat ripped out.

The pack had simply accepted her when she ran to them for comfort. Her father and she had never been particularly close, however now that he was dead, she would never find out where her wolf gene came from. Leigh knew that her mother's fragile mind simply would not accept the fact that her daughter was a werewolf, and thus had not told said such.

Leigh tossed her thoughts from her, concentrating on the task at hand: a hunt with the pack. She stripped down to the skin. Leigh relaxed herself, but prepared herself for the wash of pain then the waves of wolf. She Changed and allowed herself a little wolf grin. It was good to be a wolf.

She loped gracefully out of the brush, deeper into the forest. When the forest became open plain she stopped and waited for her pack mates. The sun was setting on the horizon and the forest was alive with scents of the life of early spring. The minor chill in the air didn't bother Leigh in the least, but she appreciated the nakedness of the land, and the ice in the wind.

Austerity always led to color, death always to life. That was life's cycle. That day she found she knew the austerity and death part of the equation, but she thought she might die before she found the other side of the circle.

Slowly the pack met, only five of them. There had been ten a year ago, until the hunters started killing them. The familiar ebb and flow of familiar scents, of her family, waved over Leigh, offering solace. After an opening ritual of rubbing and playing, the pack alpha walked to them. His distinct coat of white shone in the color play of the sun, even as his much more bleakly colored bodyguard trotted up behind him.

The pack respected their alpha, followed him without question. Or at least most of them. After some subtle searching the pack found their prey. And so the hunt was on.

Their bellies full, they found their clothing, Changed, dressed, and then the pack returned to the house. The house itself rested atop a forested hill, it was very large in structure, very familiar in person.

Leigh had long since gotten used to being the only female wolf in the pack. She was a rarity. She walked into the large house, with Elliot on her heals. She soon discovered that only some of them had bothered to fully dress. The silver lining was most of them had pants on and the simple fact that she wasn't preticularly interested in any of them. Hey, denial wasn't just a one time deal – it quickly became a lifestyle of sorts. Lycanthropes weren't known for their modesty. However, one of the older wolves had insisted that they stop waltzing around completely nude when they found Leigh. The only bad thing about such a request was (other than a few of the wolves' inablity to follow that concept) was she had suddenly developed a pattern of passing out alone in the house and waking up with a naked guy next to her. Always something she looked forward to. Not.

Luckily, she beat Elliot and Matt to the couch. Yet she was tightly squeezed between two of the bigger wolves. Todd and Shane were both bulky in the muscle department. Leigh couldn't understand why the pair went to such great lengths to beef themselves up by pumping iron; honestly a human that had the muscle tone of a born hunter, more was just excessive. Shane was a gentle giant, a great bear of a man but one with a soft heart. Todd, on the other hand, well—Todd was a trip that Leigh had no inclination to take. Elliot was the pack goofball, pulling pranks was his much sought after duty. As for Matthew, well, every group has its bad boy, right?

Haven came out of his study with a chuckle, shaking his head at his bodyguard. Since when does Grant have a sense of humor? Leigh knew for a fact that Grant was not known for telling great jokes. Something had to be up.

"Grant, I really don't see how." Haven was saying.

"How do you not see how?" Grant demanded. "We must."

"Do any of you recall our alpha asking for an advisor?" Todd asked. Grant sent him a dark look. Leigh practically smelled trouble. Matt chuckled and made himself at home at Leigh's feet, pressing his bare back against her pants legs. Haven's blue eyes met hers and she knew she was about to hear some really god-awful news.

"How about we ask her?" Grant suggested, menace in his tone. Leigh stood at once, the hair on the back of her neck standing up. She moved around Matt's body and deliberately dropped into Grant's chair. Matt's eyebrows practically went to the ceiling.

"I'm really hoping you boys aren't talking about me." Leigh said, in complete honesty.

"As I said, Grant, she'll never go along with that idea." Haven said. Leigh really hated being talked about like she was an inanimate object. She let her displeasure show, a scowl on her face, and a growl in her throat. Grant's head jerked her way.

"What the hell are you doing in my chair, female?" Grant demanded, it was pretty clear which female canine name he wished to replace female with. Leigh obligingly removed herself from his blessed chair and crossed her arms over her chest.

"While you're at asking her on something, it's recommended not to piss her off." Shane said thoughtfully. Matt was on his feet, standing near Leigh, but giving her some space.

"Just spit it out, goddamn it." Elliot said. "You all are so tedious."

"If we could have some privacy?" Grant suggested. The sitting men rose, they and the rest followed Haven to his study. Elliot turned back for a moment.

"If you're asking her to marry you, the answer's no," Elliot told him. Male laughter sounded as Elliot disappeared with the others, and the study door shut.

Leigh's eyes narrowed on Grant. It wasn't like it was real privacy, they all could still hear the proceedings.

"Would…would…" Grant began. Leigh arched an eyebrow at him, this was the first time in her five years in the pack that she'd ever heard him stammer. "Would you consider settling down with a pack mate?" Grant finally spit out. Silence answered him. Leigh just looked at him.

"That depends." Leigh said finally.

"I told you so." Grant muttered. His voice was just loud enough for Haven to hear him. The males then decided it would be a good idea to rush into the room. Haven decided to follow at his usual leisurely pace.

"You meant a werewolf, not a pack mate, pack mate. Right?" Leigh asked. Nothing against her pack, she loved them all, but only one of them really did anything for her and she wasn't about to play with that specific fire. What Grant wanted was little werewolves.

"That all depends." Grant said slowly. Leigh was starting to regret her question. "See if they are from another pack, they have to meet your alpha's standards."

"Uh-huh," Leigh said. "And what about that pesky thing we call mating?"

"Then that should increase the likelihood of your getting pregnant." A voice from the doorway said. "After all that's what Grant's idea was about," Dominic said.

"I hate when other packs stick their noses where they don't belong." Matt growled. Dominic was a good friend of Haven, as well as the second in command in a neighboring pack.

"I say good night to all of you fur balls, and that I have to think about this a bit." Leigh said.

Haven Kirkland fidgeted uncomfortably. His older brother's occupation did that to him. Hell, his brother did that to him. But that's what you get when your brother is twice as big as you are, not to mention he killed people for a living. No, Trevor Kirkland was not a serial killer, however he was an assassin. So didn't that make him a serial killer of sorts? Haven found that he didn't wish to ponder that question very long.

"Repeat this, for my sanity, Trev." Haven said. They sat in Haven's study outside of New Orleans.

"I want you to take in one of my wolves for the continued safety of your pack and for his continued survival." Trevor said blandly.

"I have a female wolf to think of, Trev. The last thing I need is some hero who thinks he's hot stuff." Haven said shortly. Trevor smiled at his brother.

"Fine, I'll leave two with you two to temper each other. Happy?"

"Not particularly. Especially since I know that all your wolves are dominant psychopaths." Haven retorted.

"This is in defense against the hunters in Louisiana, not for your S&M games, Haven." Trevor said mildly. He stood, signaling the end of their little meeting. Some days Trevor just was too much trouble.

"One thing, Trev, which wolves?" Haven's only answer was Trevor's wicked grin.

Xandri let out a final growl but gave up and entered the club. Hello Chippendale's. Only difference was, the guys on stage were girls and changed into quadrupeds under the full moon. Xandri swallowed the urge to laugh as she made her way to the bar.

Xandri caught the attention of the young-looking guy behind the bar.

"What can I get you?"

"Your manager?" Xandri suggested. The guy bared his teeth, exposing fangs, and laughed.

"And you are?"

"If it helps, I know he's fanged and a pain in the ass. I just want his master." Leigh said. The guy chuckled and spoke to the other bartender. The guy disappeared into the back. A few moments later she felt more than saw movement beside her. She glanced up at the towering vampire.

"Follow me." The vampire growled. So she did. She was led through the back, down a short hall, then into an office. "He'll be with you in a moment."

Why was this sounding like a doctor appointment? More to the point, why did it sound like the master vampire of New Orleans had been expecting her? After a five-minute wait, the door opened and Xandri turned to see an imposing figure of all the master vamps master. The guy had to be 6', 7" and that kind of height just wasn't fair.

"Well, I'll be damned." Xandri muttered as her eyes swept his remarkably familiar frame.

"Alexandrine." Phoenix murmured silkily. Alexandrine smirked back at him. The sweeping golden hair, and the devilish green eyes and that full, sexy mouth were all the same.

"Kiss ass, Nix." Alexandrine muttered. "The master of this city is being searched for however vigilantly."

"Ah. And you came to warn me? How endearing." Phoenix said.

"No, actually, I was kind of hoping to attract the hunters attention to me for entertainment purposes." Alexandrine said with a chuckle.

"Still have that evil sense of humor, I see."

"You're the vampire, Nix, not me. I'm just the human blood bank with legs." Alexandrine said with a shrug.

"What a crass thing to say about my human servant." Nix said dourly.`

"Yeah, well, spend six hundred years with the most annoying pain in the ass still living to date and see how well your sense of humor survives," Alexandrine offered, dropping her butt to the top of the office's desk. The room was spacey, for an office. Alexandrine's whole body itched to close the distance between their bodies, not for sex, but for touch. His marks on her kept her live as long as he maintained life, but in return she, by their laws, owed him her body – blood and all. "Tell me, Nix, how exactly did you become master of this city?"

"Very carefully, Alexandrine." Phoenix said simply. "What did you want from the master of New Orleans, before you found out it was me?"

"What I couldn't be the good little human servant and come to warn a vampire of hunters wanting to kill him?" Alexandrine asked innocently. Nix smirked at her and shook his head. "I happen to be looking for a vampire."

"Name? Age?"

"Less than four hundred, went by Christoph." Alexandrine said. Phoenix's eye brows flew to his hairline.

"What do you want with Christoph?" Phoenix asked, crossing his arms over his broad chest.

"My plan was to talk to him and then possibly behead the bastard." Alexandrine said. "He killed two women. In the past hundred years, vampires and lycanthropes have become legalized, thus their hunters have too been recognized by the legal system."

"Ah. My people are going to love this one." Phoenix said, shaking his head. "My human servant, a hunter." Alexandrine had to grin at his grim remark. The itching just below her skin became a burning ache in her blood.

"I want Christoph."

"I'll give you Christoph if you give me what my marks say you must." Phoenix retorted evenly. "Come here, before you make us both crazy avoiding doing what must be done." Nix said in a commanding tone, dropping his arms to his sides. Forced to do what she wished she could avoid with this dangerously seductive vampire, Alexandrine crossed the room but stopped within arms reach of Phoenix. She stood so close she could feel the heat of his body. The fact that his body had any heat meant that he had fed but the ten thousand dollar question was who, as his human servant hadn't been under his fangs in twenty years. Alexandrine felt an unexpected pang of what could only be interpreted as envy. Weird? Yes. True? Unfortunately.

Phoenix made a noise of annoyance then Alexandrine felt herself jerked up against his body. An arm made its way around her waist and his mouth made a trip to the hollow of her throat. Alexandrine let out a growl and was further irritated to feel her pulse jump when his fangs scraped at her neck.

"Xandri," the vampire breathed, sending chills over her body. "The bond is too strong for the pair of us to flirt with it like this." Xandri tossed her head back with a near moan escaping her throat. She could feel the pull in her blood, felt the burn on her sink that could only be assuaged by his fangs piercing that same skin. Talk about your irony.

Taking the opening she had given him at his request, Phoenix bit her, careful that he didn't hurt her further than just piercing her skin. The heavy touch of her blood on his tongue sent a spiral of heat through his body, but her blood took his anger at both her departure from him and this night's personal issues down a peg if not two.

Slowly, drawing back from the puncture marks on her throat, her face came up to meet his. Xandri growled at him but leaned closer and licked the two drops of her blood from his lips. As Phoenix took this as an opportunity to remind her of what they'd had and kissed her, someone else opened the office door.

Refraining from sighing, Xandri decidedly kissed him back, hoping to use the whole mind over matter theory. If she didn't mind, it didn't matter. However, the soft perfume she smelled and the low growl that came from the doorway got her attention whether or not she wanted to lose herself in his heat.

"Phoenix, this is what most people would call a deal breaker," the newcomer said. Xandri tried not to think about the situation or the implications too hard. She broke the kiss slowly. She looked Phoenix for a moment before she stepped away, turned, and eyed the female. All in all, he could have done worse.

She was slender, petite and oh so female. Alexandrine tried not to return the growl. Her auburn curls fell just past her shoulders, her eyes were a bright shade of blue, her lips full and pursed. Her hands were on her hips, if you could call those little bumps hips. Xandri eyed her with a whole new flavor of disgust she didn't think herself capable of.

"What is with you and redheads?" she asked. Phoenix made a noise in his throat that could not be mistaken for anything but frustrated. Xandri half-turned so she could see both of them, "Yeah, yeah, I ruined your little fantasy."

The other woman growled again. Xandri rolled her eyes in exasperation. This was beyond pitiful.

"Honey, are you stupid?" Alexandrine asked her, she had no chance in hell of taking Xandri on. "Let's briefly review the differences between us: I'm bigger, I'm stronger, and I'm just plain old meaner,"

"Wanna find out?" she demanded. Xandri took a step forward.

"I'm not going to fight you over dipstick over here; it'd give him way too much satisfaction." Xandri said, moving to the door. Only the little redhead stood in her way. Her eyes had bled to that amber color of a lion. "Move it or I'll move you, girly,"

"Alexandrine," Phoenix just said her name but she felt the chills race over her skin again. She whipped around and let out a low noise that made him jerk.

"I'll tell you what, you get your girlfriend to move her skinny ass and I won't kill either one of you tonight," Alexandrine offered, feeling her anger rise up in her skin. The redhead jerked Xandri's attention back to the doorway when Red's hand found her throat.

In a blur, Red was tossed back like a rag doll into the wall of the hall. She fell and didn't get back up. Smart girl, Xandri thought.

"Feel better?" Phoenix asked mildly, over her shoulder. Alexandrine did her best not to think too hard on killing him – besides the fact that he'd hear her, she knew she wouldn't stop at a thought.

"If you would like to find her in pieces, keep it up," yet another female said from the hallway eyeing the scene. Xandri eyed her and raised an eyebrow.

"What part of stay at the house did you miss?" Xandri demanded. Leigh rolled her shoulders and smirked.

"Yeah, about that…" Leigh started.

X

Leigh finally slept. I thought I was going to have to drop something in her drink just to get her to finally rest. Why should baby sisters be so damned difficult? I eyed her passed out on her side among the sheets and blankets. She was so beautiful, but so fragile. Why should sisters be so damned difficult? Because they were worth learning patience for.

She just didn't understand how much could have gone wrong when she came into the club looking for me. And if that lioness had taken it into her head to get up and rip her to pieces, werewolf or no, there would have been damage done. Why had their mother just abandoned Leigh like she had her older daughter? Because that's what horrible, demonic mothers did.

I closed the door to the room as I walked out. It was nearly two in the morning, damn kid. But I loved her despite the massive age gap and her innate ability to be a pain in the ass. I wandered into the kitchen rubbing my hand absently over the bite mark he'd left on me. Why in hell I let him do it, I'll never know. Okay that was an outright lie, one I couldn't even sell myself on. Twenty years away from him had been hell and now he had another female. I had to come to terms with that fact sooner or later, whether I liked it or not.

He'd moved on apparently, why couldn't I do the same? The only reason he touched me tonight was because of the marks between us. I let out a breath. I was right back where I'd been for the past six hundred years, pining for that little bastard. What's wrong with me? You'd think after all this time I would have learned the difference between things that are good for me and the things that aren't. Clearly, I hadn't.

I snarled softly at myself. Get a grip, honey, that part of your life is dead and gone. Over. Extinct. Or that's what I told myself. I paced restlessly in the dark of the kitchen. Looks like another sleepless night. Yay. That damned thing should not have this much power over me. Should not be able to still make me feel like a love struck teenager. But here I was, remembering what used to be.

The knock at the door jerked me from my sad reverie. Who in god's name? I crossed to it and peered out. I did not like what I saw.

I considered ignoring the pair of them, but I'd made a promise to my little sister. Shit. I opened the door and allowed the pair of wolves into the house.

"You shifters still know how to read a clock, right?" I asked as I shut the door behind them and turned to face them. One of them smelled familiar, the other smelled like trouble on two feet.

"I'm not really concerned with the time," one told me. "Where's Leigh?"

"Mongolia," I retorted dryly. I always found people that treated me like talking furniture vaguely irritating.

"Look, it's a matter of her safety," the other wolf told me.

"Yeah," I said. "Since you brought up her safety, how do I know that a) the threat is genuine, b) you two aren't a threat?"

"So why'd you let us in?" Trouble demanded. He sounded very much like he didn't care either way. That was always encouraging.

"We, well, I smelled familiar," the other one told him.

"Through a door?" Trouble shot back.

"Both of you either shut the hell up and leave or you can tell me in better detail about this threat of yours," I told them quietly.

"What are you, the really bad guard dog?"Trouble demanded of me. I smirked in the dark.

"Let me explain something to you, ace," I said softly. "You might think you're hot shit 'cause you become furry under the full moon, but if I were you I'd watch your step." The fur-ball growled in response.

"Shut up, Kory," the other wolf said hotly. Hey, he might actually have a fricking clue. "The hunters realized we have a female wolf and the very thought of a wolf pack having a full blooded werewolf scares the shit out of them,"

"So, they're after her," I finished. Fantastic. "And what do you purpose, holing her up with the rest of the pack in the middle of nowhere?"

"Uh, yeah," the wolf told me. I let out an exasperated noise.

"Fine, you do that and I'm moving into her back pocket," I told them.

"Oh, great," Kory muttered.

"What?" I asked, "You actually thought I was going to leave her alone with you?"

"Bitch," he said under his breath. I could only chuckle at him. Boy was he going to find out. I turned, went down the hall, and slipped into her room. I tossed some clothes together, mixing hers and mine, put the bag over my shoulder and picked her up and walked back out to the kitchen.

"Why didn't you wake her up?" Kory demanded as I was half way out the door with her. I ignored him and followed the other wolf. When I passed my car I handed her off and got my handy dandy government issued assassin kit. I followed them to the road, down the block and into their truck.

An hour later, the truck inched up the only big hill in the entire state. I picked up Leigh's unconscious body and the bags and followed them into the big house. We were greeted by a big werewolf. I don't think the growl he offered was meant to be a greeting.

"Pipe down you overgrown pup," I muttered, "you wake her up and we'll see how fast you run." His eyes almost glowed in the dark. The answering noise wasn't as loud, but it was clearly unfriendly. Well wasn't I just winning friends and influencing people, I thought dryly.

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