This was the last place Thane wanted to find himself. He didn't want to come, but Edwin had been insistent. So, instead of searching for his friend and mentor who was taken by hunters twenty years ago, Thane found himself surrounded by hundreds of people he didn’t know and didn’t care to.
This place was a nightmare.
His entire journey from the entrance to the main hall, people trod on his feet, shoving into his sides and generally getting in his way.
Thane growled deep in his throat, rubbing his fingers over his throbbing temples that pulsed with the beat of the music.
Why Edwin had decided to meet him at a masquerade party full of teens and college students was beyond him.
Roaming deeper into the massive house, Thane’s eyes watered from the overpowering odour of cheap perfumes and sweat mixed in the air. He forced himself not to breathe too deeply, afraid he’d choke as the air around him grew heavy. He couldn’t wait to get out of here and continue on his hunt, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, not if Edwin had his way. The old man always tried to get him to stay. Why would this time be any different?
Thane huffed, coming to a stop in front of a large table filled with sweets and alcoholic beverages. Deciding to indulge himself, he poured a drink of unnaturally dyed red liquor and lifted the flimsy plastic cup to his nose, inhaling deeply. Cherries and vanilla. Such a sickeningly sweet smell. What was the worst that could happen? He shrugged and gulped it down, gagging as it hit the back of his throat. “Disgusting,” he grumbled, wrinkling his nose as he poured a second cup. Anything to numb himself from this experience.
“Where is he?” Thane muttered to himself, crossing his arms over his chest and tapping his foot on the floor as he took another sweeping glance of the busy room. The sound of feminine giggles and whispers travelled to his over-sensitive ears, drawing his attention to the other side of the room. If he closed his eyes and concentrated hard enough, he could hear their words and the excited flutter of their hearts.
Let them look. None of these women would approach him; they never did. He could smell the scent of their attraction, feel their eyes lingering on his body causing every hair to stand on end, but his dark appeal wasn’t enough for them to overcome their fear of him. A fear he saw in their watchful eyes that kept them at a distance as they danced and gossiped.
Thane turned to face a particularly loud group of women he could hear above the others. Each of them gasped and shied away hiding their scarlet faces beneath elaborate masks. Thane rolled his eyes and looked away. None of it mattered to him. He would rather they didn’t speak with him. Some of these women may be attractive, but they were human, possibly even hunters. He didn’t want them anywhere near him. The only reason he'd come was to find out why Edwin needed him to rush back to this place he used to call home.
Tired of the stares and the whispers, Thane returned to the refreshment table and chose something a little less sickly than before.
He froze his hand pausing mid-air, causing the dark liquid to spill over the rim of his cup. There. Above the harsh perfumes and other odours he’d been so desperately trying to avoid. A scent deliciously sweet and fruity drifted to his nose on the chilly breeze that came from the open patio doors. Thane closed his eyes and turned toward the mouthwatering aroma, inhaling deeply, letting the alluring fragrance fill his lungs— Honeysuckle. It was like ambrosia crafted by the gods, making his mouth water and his body hum as it coaxed him forward.
“Thane. There you are,” a familiar voice called from behind, breaking him free of the trance the scent had put him under. Thane turned to face the very man he’d been waiting for and smiled as he approached.
“It’s good to see you, my boy. I’m grateful you came.”
Thane was shocked at how much the man had aged. His normally golden blond hair had become silver, making him look distinguished. His amber eyes faded to a pale yellow, yet they still held that spark of mischief they always had.
“How could I refuse when you practically begged me?” Thane teased, resting his hand on Edwin’s shoulder, squeezing it tight. “It’s good to see you too, old man.”
“Less of the old, thank you,” Edwin smiled and passed him yet another drink.
“What do you need me for so urgently?” The sooner he helped Edwin, the sooner he could leave this place and all the bad memories it brought back.
“I can’t explain here, Thane. It’s not safe,” Edwin paused, looking around the room as though searching for something or someone. “I’d like you to familiarise yourself with the place. I need to find a friend, to introduce you to.”
Thane grumbled, the sound coming out more like a growl.
Edwin always did this. Stalled for time, forcing Thane to stay longer than was necessary. Only this time, Thane might crack. He clenched his fists, grinding his teeth to rein in the beast within.
Edwin paid no attention to him. Instead, he passed Thane a mask and smiled, pulling his own regal cat mask down over his face. Thane raised a brow as he accepted the gift, rubbing his fingers over the soft leather, admiring the subtle shades of blue that blended flawlessly with the black. A wolf.
“Why bother now? Almost everyone here has already seen my face?”
“The hunters live here, Thane. This party is a sham. An excuse to scout for new members,” Edwin whispered, leaning in close as he adjusted his suit. “We need them to believe we’re the same as everyone else here. Besides. It suits you.”
Thane exited the room, leaving Edwin to his agenda while he began to roam the halls, familiarising himself with the building like he'd been asked. He would rather leave the party now to find out why he was here, but the old man had insisted on finding his friend first.
Who could this person be? Why would Edwin be close to someone at a hunter's party?
Thane stomped through the halls, his muscles tense and his jaw clenched shut. How long did he have to be here? He wanted to get away from all these people. From this town that held nothing but painful memories. He should be searching for traces of Lucas, not here; not at a hunter’s party. He longed to be in the open, running in the woods. The cool dirt beneath his paws, the scent of pines drifting to his nose as he roamed free and wild.
Thane closed his eyes and took a deep breath, soon wishing he hadn’t when the noxious perfumes cloying in the air nearly choked him; all hints of that honeysuckle scent vanished.
He pushed his way through the crowds, grumbling with each step, before he spotted another member of the Guard in the distance. The alliance created to protect the Lore from hunters and humans, both Edwin and himself were a part of. There was no mistaking Tynan with his wavy, surfer blond hair that brushed the collar of his shirt and that wide grin that made women melt. He was a charmer, a real ladies' man, not at all fussy when it came to claiming someone for the night.
Thane took a step toward him, ready to ask him why they were both here when he noticed the young girl; his view of her partially blocked by Tynan.
She was a pretty little thing. Long, raven black hair and big blue eyes, but she was human. Thane scoffed and wrinkled his nose when he saw Tynan stroking the girl’s face, touching his fingers to her lips and whispering in her ear. The girl stood no chance against his charms. Thane shook his head, muttering under his breath as he turned and walked away.
Several guests turned to glare at him as he barged his way through, but none of them dared to stop him or say a word.
He paused. That same honeysuckle scent from before drifted to his nose. Faint, but definitely there.
Instinct took over, forcing his feet to move without any conscious thought.
With each step, the fragrance grew stronger, spurring him forward as his pace quickened. The sensation of something pulling at him surged through his body, the animal within now wide awake, guiding his feet. The pull became more powerful, a feeling unlike anything he’d ever felt before.
His heart raced. His long strides made it appear as though he were running through the halls, shoving other guests out of his way. He needed to find the source of this overwhelming feeling coursing through him. His body ached and his throat burned as he struggled to catch his breath. He wanted to stop, fearful of what would be waiting for him around the next bend, but the animal was in control now, urging him forward, becoming impatient and needy.
Thane collided with a soft body and heard a loud thud as it hit the floor. He looked down to see a young woman in a heap before him.
“Sorry,” he apologised, rolling his eyes as he reached down to help her up. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“It’s all right. I wasn’t paying attention either,” the woman replied, looking up at him through thick black lashes; her voice like music to his soul. She reached out, her emerald eyes locking with his as she took a hold of his hand. The contact took his breath away as a jolt of electricity surged through his body, straight to his groin. He pulled her to her feet, continuing to stare at her in disbelief. That nagging sensation that lured him through the halls, vanished. The beast within him was now still, silent and content for the first time since he’d arrived back in town.
Was it searching for her? Impossible. She was human. Possibly even a hunter.
It may not be unheard of for a shifter to take a human mate. Hell, his best friend had. But Thane would never trust a human again, not when they had destroyed his home and taken everything from him. But when he looked at the woman in front of him, his heart clenched. How could this beautiful creature be his enemy?
His eyes drifted lower to her black dress that was tight around her middle, pushing her breasts forward until they looked like they might spill over. He would be only too happy to catch them if that should happen. Her creamy skin screamed for him to taste; to touch.
He shook his head vigorously. What was he thinking? He couldn’t lose himself to his desires. Not with her.
Thane forced his attention back to her face, and away from a body that was beginning to reawaken the beast, but it did little to douse the fire building in the pit of his stomach.
Her hair was down, just the way he liked it, shimmering like fine silk. The long, rich, burgundy waves framed her face and he longed to run his fingers through it. Faint freckles dotted over her button nose and high cheekbones, drawing his attention as she gave him a nervous smile.
He almost broke. Those full red lips were so tempting and inviting. He leaned forward to taste them, catching himself before he made contact.
Never in his long existence had he been so captivated by a woman.
There were a lot of beautiful women here, but none of them held his interest. Not like her. No, there was more to her than a pretty face, something stronger that called to him and made the beast wild.
Who was this woman?
He looked down at her, noticing she too had been affected by their contact. Her heart raced, making her chest rise and fall quickly, drawing his attention once again to her generous bust.
Thane went to leave, needing to put some distance between them when he noticed her rubbing her arm.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked, clearing his tight throat as he continued to watch her. Why it bothered him if he'd hurt her, he didn't know. He'd been pushing people out of his way all evening, but with her, things were different. He felt guilty.
“No, no. I'm fine. Really,” she insisted, pulling a mask over her face.
Like his, hers was shaped into a wolf. The delicate lace lay in stark relief against her pale skin.
He leaned toward her to examine the mask more closely, stopping mere inches from her face. Her dazzling emerald eyes looked so familiar as they doubled in size with fear and something else. Desire perhaps.
The rich scent of honeysuckle filled his nostrils, making him close his eyes and take an indulgent breath.
"Interesting mask," Thane commented, reopening his eyes to lock with hers.
"Thank you. A friend gave it to me."
Her face burned red beneath the mask as he traced the edges with his index finger.
She leaned in close and pressed up on her tip-toes, brushing her moist lips against his in a fleeting kiss.
“Sorry—I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never—”
He cut her sentence short, pressing his lips back against hers, deepening the kiss.
She moaned into his mouth, spurring him on and sending another jolt to his groin. He needed to stop, needed to control himself. But she felt so right. Like he’d been waiting for her for years.
He curled his hands into tight fists, his sharp nails digging into his palms, forcing himself to step back and break free of the kiss and the passion that consumed him.