“So you really trust this guy?” Andrea sipped her cappuccino and sighed. Liquid caffeine. Best drug in the world. It wasn’t as good as coffee back home in Texas, but it was better than what she normally got down in Choaca.
The flight to Toronto had been brutal, and she’d been delighted to see her favorite coffee shop in the airport terminal.
She glanced across the table at Luther, who had a coffee cup in one hand and his other arm around Maggie’s shoulders. Those two were almost always touching. Once upon a time, she knew what it felt like to be so in love. So drawn to a person that you couldn’t exist without their touch.
Andrea swallowed and flashed a friendly smile, pushing the dark memory back into the vault where it needed to stay.
They’d had to wait three weeks for the right john to travel to the island. This friend of Luther’s was their only chance—Vadik Nabatov. It was a huge risk. Not only was he a complete stranger, and a mercenary for hire, they were going to have to break her pack’s cardinal rule. They’d have to tell him about wolves…about magick.
It put them all in danger for humans to know.
Why didn’t anyone understand this?
“I already told you. I trust him with my life. With Maggie’s life,” Luther answered calmly. “He’s one of the best at what he does. Instincts unlike any I’ve ever seen.”
Andrea nodded and rubbed a sweaty palm across a denim-clad thigh. Being nervous wasn’t something she was used to. Even through all the shit they’d dealt with in Choaca, it’d been a team of wolves working for the higher purpose of saving other wolves. As the mission had twisted and turned and wrapped around each and every one of them, they’d involved one human after another. Granted, Julianna and Luther had turned out to both be destined mates to wolves on the team, but it hadn’t been easy to stomach.
She’d grown up in a small town where the secret of being Moonbound was guarded ever so carefully, and now they were about to share it with yet another human. Her brother would blow a gasket.
“Breathe, woman,” Dani snapped, shifting in her seat next to Niko.
The Hollywood wolf never pulled punches. Probably why Niko was so attracted to her. The man was a glutton for punishment. He and Dani had done their best to hide their blossoming romance, but Andrea had noticed it months ago. A brush of their hands or a stolen look here and there. They’d probably slept together too, but she didn’t know that for sure.
Good for them.
But their relationship only hammered in the fact that Andrea was a total fifth wheel on this trip. Maggie had insisted she come, though, feeding Andrea the line that if anything went sideways with Vadik, she could sweet-talk him off the ledge and win him to their side.
Everyone loved Andrea VonBrandt.
“This is the only way. If we don’t bring in a human in on this, we’ll never get anyone onto the island again. Just deal,” Dani continued.
“Dani’s right,” Maggie added.
Andrea raised an eyebrow, but didn’t respond. If this was what they really wanted to do, she’d support it. The team, her friends, were her highest priority right now. She’d do anything to keep all of them safe, even if it meant some—or a great deal—of personal discomfort.
She rolled her neck and took a deep breath. A wave of something flowed over her skin. Magick? It licked at the hairs on the back of her neck and a shiver flitted down the length of her spine, warming her from the inside out.
“Did you feel that?” she asked, glancing at Maggie.
Maggie shook her head.
Andrea glanced into the crowds of people walking through the terminal. Whatever it was she’d felt was getting closer.
* * *
Vadik Nabatov clenched his fists. Women. There were three women at the table with Luther.
He hadn’t been told there would be women. He might not have come. They’d never done a job before where women were involved who weren’t either military or mercenary.
Certainly no civilians.
The barista handed him a brown and red paper cup of hot, black coffee. He nodded and flinched. Something seemed to burn in his stomach as he walked past the big green plant that hid the table Luther’s group occupied.
No one had noticed him yet, and he preferred it that way. He wanted to watch for as long as he could, before Luther saw him. He stood at the condiment bar and pretended to fiddle with his coffee. Vadik never understood people who added shit to perfectly good coffee. Like pretty girls who wore makeup. Just leave it as God intended.
If it was bad enough that it needed cream and sugar to prop it up, why waste time consuming it?
“Did you feel that?” one of the women at Luther’s table asked. They were all watching the crowd out in the terminal, completely oblivious that he was behind them.
He turned his shoulder so he couldn’t see them at all.
“What?” Luther’s voice carried.
“Never mind,” the woman responded.
This was the same one who’d asked if Luther trusted Vadik. She spoke with a lilty accent, dropping the ends of her words and twanging her vowels. Probably Texas, although she hadn’t said enough for him to be certain.
The black woman had expensive sunglasses and designer jeans, but he couldn’t place her accent, either. The little pixie girl with the tattoos, Luther was practically mauling. She had a big tablet in her hand and was busily swiping at the screen.
The man who was not Luther was a big, blond beefcake who looked like he might have Russian parentage. This wasn’t the target, though. The target would be in the luxury jet lounge. Not out with the commoners.
He didn’t trust this group. They had no obvious affiliation, and apart from the two couples—one who couldn’t keep their hands off each other, and one who tried very hard not to touch at all—they didn’t seem close. Not by body language.
They weren’t family. He’d never heard of any of them, including the little no-tits girl who was almost in Luther’s lap.
Who the hell were these people? Maybe I shouldn’t have taken this job.
Vadik put the cup down and replaced the lid, throwing away the unused stir stick. He needed to get Luther alone. The tug in his stomach was driving him crazy. He always listened to his gut, and his gut was telling him to run. Fast.
He sipped the hot liquid and let it roll across his tongue, perking his taste buds with bitter heat. Listen to your gut.
With a quick swivel of his head, he scoped out the most likely place in the restaurant that Luther would be able to see him without drawing attention to himself. He walked to the big display that showed pictures of all the food items and turned just a bit off-center of the display.
Luther had his chin on the little woman’s shoulder and was almost looking directly at him.
Vadik pulled down the edge of his coat and drilled Luther with a hard gaze. His friends’ eyes lit for a moment and Vadik shook his head. He gestured outside and quickly walked in the direction he’d indicated.
He took a sharp right outside the restaurant and walked far enough that he couldn’t see any part of the coffee shop. Vadik ducked in to line with the boarding flight to Winnipeg and shuffled around until he saw Luther emerge from the coffee shop and glance around.
“What the hell, man?” his friend said, approaching. “We were supposed to meet inside.”
Vadik sighed and stepped out of the line, walking until even the entrance of the coffee shop was no longer in sight.
“I thought you were coming alone.”
“So did I.” He leaned against the wall and huddled close so they could talk without being overheard. “It wasn’t until we got on the jet that I realized half the team was coming along.”
“Team?” Vadik crossed his arms. “They don’t look like any team I’ve ever seen.”
“They’re…a different kind of team than we’ve worked with before.” One corner of Luther’s mouth formed the beginning of a half–smile. “Way different.”
“What… like a cheerleading team or something?”
His friend snorted. “Not like that.”
“Come on, man. There are women. And they’re obviously not military, mercenary, or mafia. Hell, they don’t look trained at all. One of them looks like a fucking movie star, with her shades and shit. And I swear to God, there’s a cheerleader.”
Luther laughed and waved a hand. “That’s just Andrea. I swear, she’s a badass when she needs to be.”
“And you’ve got a woman all over you. Shit, man. We can’t be on a mission with a woman all over you.” Vadik flexed his fingers and wished for a smoke. “You’ll get us both killed. Or all of us.”
“See, that’s the thing.” Luther rolled his shoulders and looked around. “I won’t be going on the mission with you.”
Vadik raised his eyebrows. “You won’t?”
“Then who’s going with me?”
“No one.” Luther grabbed him by the arm. “Come on. You really need to meet the rest of the team.”
But when Luther’s body moved, and Vadik focused on the space behind him, the rest of the team was standing there, looking unimpressed. The shades had come down off the movie star’s nose and the blonde had a hand on her hip.
The pixie girl stepped forward and smacked Luther’s arm. “Duh, jackass, you didn’t think we knew what that was all about? Uh, I have to go to the bathroom, and then you take off in the opposite direction.”
Luther grabbed Vadik’s arm. “There are bathrooms this way, too.”
“Please.” Pixie held out her hand. “I’m Maggie Gallagher. You must be Vadik.”
He pressed his lips together and shook the woman’s hand, nodding. She turned around and indicated each of the others.
“That’s Niko on the end, and Dani.” She pointed to the leggy blonde. “And Andrea. We’re all very grateful you could come.”
The blonde followed Maggie’s lead and offered a handshake, unlike her much more skeptical friends. Vadik’s gaze traveled up and down her body and landed on those wide, blue eyes. She was smiling, being friendly, but he wasn’t buying it. She was the one who’d questioned Luther about trusting him. She didn’t like this any more than he did.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Who are you?”
When she made a tiny jump back, he shifted his weight and glanced around the group. “All of you. Who are you? I know you’re not trained in covert ops, so I have to wonder how Luther knows you, and he doesn’t seem very forthcoming. If this is some kind of birthday surprise for a friend, like let’s tie up the Russian spy and throw them in the closet together for sex games or something, let me tell you right now, I’m not interested.”
The blonde cocked her head and studied his face. “Hmmm. Nice accent, Ivan. You pick that up from a Dracula movie or something?”
“It’s Vadik. Not Ivan.”
“Oh, I know who you are.” Her hand was still outstretched and her lips still quirked up in a smile, undaunted by his tirade. Luther said she was a badass, but he didn’t see it. He’d met badass women in his lives. They were hard. Prickly.
This woman was…refreshing.
Fuck. Did I really just think that?
Vadik shook his head to clear out the strange desire he had to keep looking at the blonde. He stared at Luther until his friend responded.
“Well, let’s just say, none of them are in law enforcement or covert ops, or anything like that. But all cats are gray in the dark, right?”
The old Russian proverb trick. Luther knew him too well.
“I don’t know if that would hold true in this case. They’re not trained.”
“But they’ll work. Besides…” He glanced around at the crowd and lowered his voice, drawing closer. “You’ll be doing the killing.”
Vadik allowed a slow smile to spread across his face and watched the response of each team member.
They still didn’t know what to make of him, especially Miss Texas, but he’d allow that. They didn’t need to understand him. Just get out of his way and let him do what he was good at.
The best at.