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Le Loup Garou. The sign glowed neon bright above the shuttered windows.
Embry wondered if it was designed to appeal to curious tourists who came to the Crescent City in search of myth and legend, then decided it probably wasn’t. They weren’t in the French Quarter and nowhere near Bourbon Street. This was a neighborhood place, tucked between a darkened law office and a building with space for lease.
Cade pulled open the paneled door. Blues, rich and soulful, spilled out to color the night. “After you,” he gestured.
Moving in a way that she hoped resembled a slow, deliberate, Watch Me walk, Embry moved past him, feeling his eyes on her as she stepped through the tiny vestibule and into the light and sounds of the bar. She blinked a moment, waiting for her eyes to adjust. The walls were exposed brick, dominated by a mirror behind a long, polished bar. Black and white photographs in cypress wood frames drew the eye here and there. On the wall opposite the bar, a jumbo flat screen TV played a recap of what she recognized as another fight that had been on tonight’s ticket.
“Hey! Hail the conquerin’ hero!”
Embry shifted her gaze to the bartender who held some bottle aloft by the neck in salute to Cade, who’d stepped up beside her.
With a grin and a flourish, Cade made a mocking bow to the tune of applause from most of the patrons present. “Another title won! Y’all know what that means?” He pointed his finger toward the audience.
“Hot wings!” came the resounding chorus.
Embry felt her lips quirk as he placed a hand on the small of her back to navigate her toward the bar. “Isn’t a round of drinks more traditional?”
“Yeah but Mick’s place makes the best damned hot wings in the city, and I’m always starving after a fight.”
“I already put da order in to Jeanette,” said the bartender, sliding a mug the length of the bar to a waiting hand.
“How’s business tonight, my man?” asked Cade bumping fists with the other man.
“Always good on fight night.” Mick’s eyes moved over to Embry. “And who’s dis lovely lady?”
“Mick, Embry. Embry, Micajah Guidry, owner of this fine establishment.”
When the bartender offered his hand, Embry took it, surprised when he raised it to his lips in a gallant kiss. “Either da prizes have gotten way better dis season, or your taste has improved considerable.”
“Pay no attention to him, Embry. I assure you—”
She didn’t hear whatever comeback Cade made. Her amusement faded as she saw Mick’s nostrils flare, inhaling her scent. For a moment his eyes glowed, flicking to hers in appraisal.
Son of a bitch, she thought, fighting to control her own flare of alarm. The bastard certainly had a sense of humor. Only a wolf-shifter would think naming a bar Le Loup Garou and hiding in plain sight was funny.
“Hey now, hands off my date, Cajun,” said Cade, tugging her hand away and tucking a possessive arm around her.
“No offense, but you playin’ wit’ fire wit’ dis one.”
“I swear, I’m a puppy dog,” protested Cade.
But Embry knew perfectly well what Mick had meant. He knew what she was.
Satisfied that his warning had been received, the Wylk’s attention shifted to Cade. “Your usual?”
“How about you, cher? Wine? G and T? Amaretto sour?”
“Martini. Dirty.” Because her legs felt a little shaky, Embry slid onto a barstool.
Her mind buzzed with calculation. Was the mission compromised? Would she be reported? Surely not. This wolf had no idea what she was about, what she wanted Cade for. As far as he knew, she was just his date, nothing more. It wasn’t like she had a badge tattooed on her forehead that proclaimed her IED.
Mick passed Cade a beer and set the martini in front of her before folding his arms and leaning conversationally on the bar. “So where he pick you up, cher? You not from around here.”
“I was at the fight,” she replied, taking a careful sip and humming in approval.
“Front row,” said Cade cheerfully.
“She was what you was lookin’ at when Archer clocked you one?”
Cade rubbed at the knot on his head. “It was a moment.”
“You lucky he didn’t knock you da fuck out, da way you was all moony-eyed.”
“Hey, first, I object to the term moony-eyed. Second, I tied Archer’s ass up in a bow during that second round. Forgive the coon ass, Embry. He thinks being my best friend obliges him to give me shit about women.”
Best friend. Great. She took another sip of the martini. “So how did you two meet? You’re not from New Orleans either, are you, Cade? I mean, your accent doesn’t match.”
There was the briefest moment of hesitation before he answered, “Memphis actually. Been in New Orleans for about ten years now. My first place wasn’t too far from here, and I came in one night after work. There were a couple of defensive linemen from Tulane who took offense when Mick cut ’em off.”
“Cade helped take out da trash,” said Mick picking up the narrative. “Not dat I couldn’a handled ’em myself.”
“Of course you could,” said Cade. “But whatever, I helped.”
“He has a beautiful left cross, him,” said Mick affecting wiping away a tear.
“True dat,” agreed Cade with a grin. “We bonded over a bottle of tequila after closing time. Been tight ever since.”
A door at the far end of the bar swung open and a trio of waitresses sashayed out carrying trays loaded up with baskets of hot wings. One of them, a buxom blonde in a babydoll T-shirt at least one size too small, flounced over and placed two baskets on the bar in front of them. She offered Cade a toothy grin, “Who’s the flavor of the week, Cade?”
Embry diverted the flare of temper to the glass in her hand and totally ruined her martini.
A petite woman with salt and pepper hair slipped between the waitress and the bar to set down a basket of fries. “Watch yo’ mouth. Just ’cause he don’t wanna warm yo’ bed, don’t mean he can’t look elsewhere. You got tables.”
With a huff, the blond sashayed away.
Satisfaction warred with embarrassment, and Embry fought to keep both off her face as the woman swung in her direction. The dark, sharp eyes studied her with interest for several moments before she turned to Cade, taking his face between her red-nail tipped fingers and planting a smacking kiss on his mouth. “Congrats on your win, cher.”
Smiling sheepishly, Cade enfolded the woman in a massive bear hug. “Thanks Jeanette.” He shifted her around until they were both facing Embry. “This is Embry Hollister. Embry, this is my New Orleans Maman, Jeanette Benoit.”
Best friend and his current mother figure. What is this, Embry wondered, a meet the family kind of date? It wasn’t at all what she’d had in mind. She’d never be able to slip him the antidote beneath their watchful eyes.
Embry forced her lips to curve and held her hand out to Jeanette. “Nice to meet you.”
The other woman took her hand, her eyes glazing over a moment, her smile frozen in place. Then Jeannette blinked, releasing her hand. “You are different.”
Though her senses jangled with alarm, she forced her voice to be light. “He’s not usually into red-heads?”
Jeanette made a non-committal noise, then patted Cade’s shoulder and headed back to the kitchen.
Cade missed the exchange, as he was busy replying to the assorted wave of thank yous being tossed out from the rest of the de facto fan club who were likewise digging into their wings. He didn’t notice her sudden tension. Mick noticed. From the other end of the bar, he lifted a brow and looked back at the kitchen.
Embry’s mind raced, analyzing the exchange in an attempt to catalogue the threat. Witch? One with the power of Sight? She’d made no subtle warning or challenge as Mick had, so maybe this Jeannette wasn’t an immediate threat.
Embry shifted to study the crowd, as much from habit as to settle herself again. Among the patrons she counted a vampire, two other Wylk, and a male witch who was illegally working a charm on the woman he was with. Embry could have busted him, but she wasn’t on duty, and she sure as hell wasn’t about to blow her shot at this mission.
“You okay?” asked Cade. “Wings not your thing? I’m sorry, I should’ve asked. Would you like something else?”
Embry dialed the smile back up and focused on him. “No, I’m fine. Just a little overwhelmed. I’ve been in a lot of crowds tonight.”
“Not into big presses of people, huh?”
“Me neither,” he admitted.
“Really? But the crowds love you.”
“They love whoever the winner of the minute is. Tomorrow that may not be me.”
“Then what?” she asked. “What will you do when you can’t fight anymore?”
“Damned if I know.” He made short work of the rest of his wings. “What about you? What do you do?”
She slanted a glance down the bar to where Mick was chatting with a couple of other patrons. He didn’t move, didn’t glance her way, but Embry knew he was listening. “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
Cade’s lips curved in a killer smile she felt straight down to her gut. “A woman of mystery. Okay, I can respect that. So you won’t tell me what you do, tell me something else about yourself.”
Time to get the show on the road, she thought placing a hand on his forearm and leaning in close. “I secretly hate high heels,” she whispered. “But you can’t tell anyone. They’ll take away my woman card.”
His eyes raked over her in appreciation. “Sugar, nobody could ever take your woman card away.”
She leaned back, crossing her legs so the hemline rode high, drawing his eyes again. “Yeah, well, it has its uses.”
“Like making guys drool?”
“Well, we sure don’t do it for us.”
He threw back his head and laughed. God, how she’d missed that sound.
“Well on behalf of my side of the species, thank God for it.” He raised his glass.
She tapped her martini glass against the lip with a cheerful clink, then drained the last of her spoiled drink.
“Want another?” he asked, starting to signal for Mick.
Embry shook her head and bent toward him. “Let’s get out of here,” she whispered, letting her lips brush against the lobe of his ear.
His big body tensed in a shiver before he tipped his eyes back to hers. “Yes ma’am.”
* * *
If you’re intrigued by Mick, be on the lookout for my next release, a novelette called Devil’s Eye. Coming soon!