“Well,” Cameron exhaled slowly, stretching his arms above his head, “That explains a lot.”
Legs taking up the entire length of the gondola bench on his side, Cameron leaned back against the glass window. He’d listened to both Madeline and Levi explain what they learned from Alesdair and was now processing the information while enjoying the gentle swing of the cabin as it slowly rounded the apex of the Ferris wheel.
On the bench across from him, Levi sat properly, arms crossed, studying the wolf’s reaction. Considering how deeply involved the Orimura clan now was in all this, and with Cameron being a formidable descendant, it made perfect sense to recruit him as an ally. Levi had even dressed up for the occasion in a collared, long-sleeved, dress shirt and dark trousers; his way of showing his respect for the seriousness of the alliance he was proposing. Cameron, however, was in his usual jeans and t-shirt despite the chill in the February evening air.
And then there was Madeline, bundled up nervously in her winter coat on the floor of the gondola, half-hidden in the shadows created by the colored lightbulbs dotting the Ferris wheel’s frame.
The three had met up in a park Southeast of Tokyo, mainly because she felt guilty about the whole onsen fiasco. They visited the aquarium and walked the gardens for a bit before Levi and Cameron decided to take a ride on the monumental Ferris wheel. Madeline protested, but both her companions agreed it was the one place in the park they could talk freely. The ride wasn’t bad at first, but as the distance between the glass-walled cabin and the ground increased, so did her fear of heights. It didn’t take long before she moved to the floor to avoid the view, clean clothes be damned.
“But why couldn’t she leave the Tetsugawa building?” Cameron asked.
“She made a promise. Simple as that,” Levi replied. “Gideon tricked her into making one the moment he knew the necklace’s enchantment was failing. Fae can’t break their word.”
“And he planned on having those flowers at the reception,” Madeline added, voice quieter than usual due to her current mental state. “He must have switched out my necklace before then.”
“So he knew she’d be susceptible to being bound by promises because he more or less short-circuited the real opal. He just had to wait for the opportunity,” Cameron explained the situation to himself out loud.
Short-circuited. Madeline dwelled on the phrase for a few moments before coming to a realization.
“Guys? I know when Gideon stole it,” she announced looking up at the both of them. “It must have been during the night before I was supposed to go to the onsen. Maybe that red shadowy stain I saw for a moment on the hotel chair was where he was sitting?”
Analyzing the facts, Levi tapped his index finger against his lips before speaking once more.
“He must have been able to translate the original Fae incantations to know what the necklace’s job was before he would have wasted his time adding his own magic to it in order to produce a copy. And considering how guarded their written languages are...”
“Gideon sure does know a lot about the fae,” Cameron added, narrowing his eyes.
“Suspicious, don’t you think?” Levi asked.
“Definity,” the wolf agreed, “So what’s next?”
“We’re going to head back to the states, meet up with Gwen so Madeline can get some guidance,” Levi replied. “I’d appreciate it if you and I could exchange contact information in case this gets bigger.”
“Bigger how?” Cameron asked, arching a brow.
“So far this involves the Fae, the Orimura clan, the Tetsugawa clan, and Gideon. Call me pessimistic, but I expect there to be more. And while I’m good at staying steps ahead of everyone, I’m not that good,” Levi smirked.
“Sure, but I’m not doing it to help you. I’m doing it to protect Madeline,” Cameron stated.
“I’ll let the pack know what’s going on,” Cameron added. “And I’m sure the Elder will want to be briefed.”
As the gondola reached the loading dock with a gentle bump, Madeline rose to her feet immediately ready to leave. It was a relief to be back on the ground, even if the smell of asphalt was awful compared to her non-issue with it days before.
“How do you both deal with scents?” she asked, wrinkling her nose. “The pavement is just… nauseating.”
“Being born with a strong scent of smell is much different than having it suddenly sprung on you,” Cameron replied, “Although I’m betting certain things bother you more than it does us.”
“True,” Levi added, “Man-made things at odds with nature probably smell worse.”
As they walked toward Cameron’s motorcycle, Levi pulled out his cellphone to summon a cab back to the hotel.
“Promise me you’ll call me when you’re back home safe?” Cameron asked Madeline, worry briefly clouding his eyes. “And if you promise, I know you will for sure, unlike when you forgot after leaving with your friend Gwen.”
“I promise,” she responded confidently. “You don’t have to worry.”
Glancing from Madeline to Levi, his expression darkened.
“I still don’t trust him. So be extra careful, got it?”
It saddened her that she couldn’t explain to Cameron why he was so wrong about Levi. History had painted a devious picture of him, and he kept up the charade for good reason. All she could offer Cameron now was a tight-lipped smile and a nod of her head hoping that would lead him to worry less.
Seeing her nod in agreement, Cameron flashed a quick, toothy smile before mounting up and roaring off into the night.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m not sure,” Madeline responded as her blue eyes traced the pattern on the hotel bedspread before meeting Levi’s. “Is that a weird thing to say?”
“Considering that up until yesterday you thought you were just human, no. That’s not a strange answer at all.”
Sighing deeply, Madeline rose from the bed. It had been a very long day and tomorrow evening they’d board a plane back to Washington. She was feeling more exhausted just thinking about the long flight.
“I’m going to take a shower,” she informed, making her way to the bathroom.
With so much on her mind, she was oblivious to the clear glass walls, stripping down to nothing before stepping under the showerhead. Twisting the faucet, the warm water cascaded down over her body cleansing away the tension and anxiety of the day. Alesdair told her his line, their line, was water attuned, causing her to briefly wonder if that’s why the water always felt so unusually therapeutic. The more time she passed under the deluge of hot water, the more she felt renewed. Washing her long auburn curls felt like she was cleansing her spirit, ridding herself of negative energies. Lathering some soap in her hands, Madeline closed her eyes and began to gently wash her face, savoring the slow and methodical process.
There was a sudden drop in the surrounding air temperature and humidity as the glass door quietly opened and closed. Holding perfectly still, she concentrated on the space behind her. She could sense the heat of a body, a chest rising and falling with relaxed breaths, and the placement of bare feet forcing the stream of water to redirect its path.
Only one person could be standing at her back right now, and the single thought of his toned, nude body ignited her desire.
“I’ll leave if you want me to,” Levi’s silken voice whispered in Japanese from over her right shoulder.
Eyes still closed, she let the soothing sound of his voice resonate, picturing the intimate details of his lean frame only inches behind her. Pulse-pounding in her ears, it would be a lie to say she hadn’t been wanting him. From the first moment she laid eyes on him from her cage in that warehouse, even as he fought, he intrigued her. Bewitched her. She put up with years of his cruel teasing. Almost giving in to the way he toyed with her emotions only to retreat and finish out her fantasies of him all alone.
Lips parting to speak, her voice cracked as she uttered only one word.
Tilting her head up into the spray of water, Madeline rinsed the soap bubbles from her face just as Levi’s defined, muscled chest pressed against her back. Exhaling softly, his fingertips trailed across her neck, sweeping her wet hair over her left shoulder. Like a brand, his lips marked the skin behind her right ear, working carefully, tortuously, down the nape of her neck. Circling a single finger around the curve of her shoulder then down the length of her arm, Levi slipped his right arm around her waist, resting his hand on the front of her hip and bringing her firmly against his body. His other arm reached up and grabbed the showerhead, removing it from its cradle. Still working his lips softly and slowly against her neck, he directed the jetting water across Madeline’s breasts, being particularly attentive that it oscillated teasingly against her nipples.
Feeling the curl of hair encircling the hardness of his desire directly against her tailbone, Madeline needed to touch him. She could no longer remain still and captive. Gliding her right hand down his forearm until it rested atop his hand, she laced her fingers in his. Her breathing grew more labored with each flick of water against her skin.
Lips parting breathlessly from the nape of Madeline’s neck, Levi spoke once again.
Lost in a daze fantasizing of what was to come, Madeline barely managed nod.
Setting the showerhead back in place, Levi turned the water off. As Madeline exited the shower, she was wrapped in a soft bath sheet. Unexpectedly, Levi was already wearing a towel around his waist. And was perfectly dry.
“That’s a neat trick,” Madeline complemented with a languid smile.
Raising his hand, Levi snapped his fingers crisply, creating a brief but thorough whirlwind around her body. The stream of air circled her limbs traveling upwards through every single strand of hair. In a split second, Madeline was nearly dry as well.
“It has its uses,” he replied breathlessly.
Extending a gentlemanly hand out to take hers, Levi led Madeline to the bed in a princely fashion she had never experienced before. She couldn’t take her eyes off the way his jet black hair brushed against his broad shoulders as she followed him, clutching the bath sheet around her body with her free hand. His aura of devotion made her suddenly modest. And this anticipation… it was as if she was being led into a magical realm.
Crawling onto the bed, gently pulling Madeline along with him, Levi turned, kneeling on the duvet. Unabated, Madeline savored the vision of his toned body, soft hair, and piercing green eyes. Her cheeks flushing madly.
“What’s this?” Levi questioned slowly, in the softest, sultriest voice imaginable. “Is my little fairy blushing?”
Shook by the timbre of his throaty words, Madeline tried to recover a bit of sass but found herself stammering.
“L..Li..little fairy?” she responded, feigning irritation as she closed in on him.
Watching a seductive smile spread slowly from one corner of his mouth to the other, Madeline crawled toward him, releasing her bath sheet and placing both palms on Levi’s broad shoulders. Pushing him down against the bed, she straddled his waist. Her heart felt as if it was going to burst.
A horrible fear seized her out of nowhere, trying to convince her that this was all an impossible dream. Fearful that the moment would disappear in a puff of smoke or an alarm clock’s buzzer, she hesitated. Staring into Levi’s eyes, her vision grew cloudy as she fought off tears.
Concerned, Levi reached up placing his palm on her cheek. The warmth of his skin brought Madeline out of her needless worry.
“I’m not sure what seems to have suddenly distracted you,” Levi whispered, his thumb lightly stroking her cheek, “But there is nothing to fear. You are safe. I am here. I will protect you. Always.”
Leaning forward, Madeline buried her fingers in his thick, black hair and brought her lips to his. Full and soft like the few kisses they’d shared so long ago, this one was also unhurried. Each one lingering as a fire being stoked. She could have remained blissfully savoring his kisses for hours, if only he hadn’t cultivated the spark of her desire so brilliantly over the years. Unable to keep the languid pace, Madeline began pressing her lips against his more feverishly. His woodsy, sandalwood scent filled her lungs. His lips tasted like chaste water. Kneading his soft mane uncontrollably, her lips parted to the teasing wetness of Levi’s tongue as he placed his large hands against her back, gliding them slowly downward, coming to rest on her hips. He grasped her firmly, holding her pelvis against his in a slow rhythm. She could feel Levi’s length beneath the towel draped across his waist, a meager layer of cotton warmed by their urges being the only thing separating them from complete indecency.
Levi sensed the air around Madeline becoming infused with delicious emotion. Her past Desire was comparable to wispy smoke that tasted like nectar, but this was building into a much denser, creamier substance. Levi partook of her palatable desire while devouring her kisses. The energy it granted him started to heighten his senses.
Her mouth leaving his, Madeline began to leave a trail of kisses along Levi’s jawline. As he extended his head back, a soft, deep moan escaped him, inspiring Madeline’s lips to trail down his neck and along his collarbone before he rolled her over on her back as if she weighed no more than a feather.
Her thoughts suddenly shot back to the moment he towered over her in much the same manner back in Croatia, only that time was nothing more than a tease. Reaching up, Madeline wrapped her arms lightly around Levi’s neck and pulled him back down, their lips meeting once more as she felt his bare thigh between her legs. Uncontrollably, she pressed herself against his leg, quivering as her altar of venus was finally in direct contact with his skin.
Another moan escaped Levi’s lips.
It was all too much.
Hands untangling from his hair, Madeline slipped her fingers to the towel around his waist and unfastened it, setting free his hot muscle to rest against her lower abdomen. Greedily, her hands caressed and stroked him, bringing the most delicious noises out of Levi. She needed him. Needed him now.
Spreading wide, her hands guided him to her wetness.
“This isn’t going to be some simple flirtation. Some temporary distraction,” Levi groaned breathlessly, resisting the urge to simply plunge into her. “This is forever. There is no going back.”
“I’m fully… aware,” she gasped, barely managing a coherent sentence.
Chucking devilishly, Levi glided his full length into her.
Madeline leaned her head back and let out a cry of ecstasy as he was finally, deep inside her. Every slow thrust elicited uncontrollable euphoria. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else even seemed to even exist. And she didn’t want anything else to exist either. Just her and Levi like this. Forever.
Grinding against her, Levi leaned down into deep, melting kisses. Madeline’s Desire was now creamy in the air and sugary-sweet. He couldn’t stop himself from feasting on it. It was more than heightening his senses now. He could actually feel it coursing through his veins.
Wrapping her legs around his waist, Madeline felt the unmistakable sensation of a climax on the verge of overtaking her. As Levi quickened his pace, Madeline couldn’t help but grind herself against him. He started to pulse deep with every apex of his depth, and Madeline was set off. Letting go, with one hand she grabbed a handful of bedspread and cried out. Moans and her favorite colorful word echoed in the room as she rode the flood of sensations.
And Levi didn’t stop.
The air around him tingled electrically. Desire so thick and sweet he was drowning in it. No, not drowning. Overindulging. Overdosing? He couldn’t put a word to it, and couldn’t stop pouring himself over Madeline’s body. Couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop, making love to her. And she climaxed, over and over again, triggered by the strange combination of physical and magical he suddenly found himself mixing. Nothing was familiar, but it all felt natural. And not felinae. No… there was no room for the fake felinae guise in what he was orchestrating.
Madeline’s eyes meet his, showing a sudden surprise that quickly faded into a content smile. His normally emerald-colored eyes took on a bluer shade, like turquoise, and they were shimmering. His pupils were different as well, becoming and then remaining as thin black slits.
Before Levi could question her expression, Madeline reached up with both her hands causing a shiver of sexual delirium to tremor through his whole body as she stroked his velvety, vulpine ears.
He wasn’t sober enough to be shocked.
Hungrily he kissed her, letting her fingertip-strokes and the grinding of her wetness bring him to his plateau. Releasing a trio of throaty grunts, Levi went rigid as one last sultry moan reverberated through the suite before he gushed in pulses deep within her.
Levi strode elegantly through the lobby of Taro’s building. His movements were undetectable even to the experienced security “wolves” who could not even pick up his scent. After making love to Madeline, he had slipped back into his white, collared shirt and black trousers but remained barefoot. Thinly pointed, velvety-black ears tipped in a silvery-teal majestically crowned his tousled black hair, and his slitted emerald eyes momentarily glowed turquoise, a consequence of the power he seethed.
He could feel life in the building, from the bodies on each floor to the smallest desk plant. He could also feel the presence of death. It was far above him, which was likely Taro’s personal quarters, and far below, paired with magic. It was the draw of it below him that guided his path. He was looking specifically for where Gideon studied while under Taro’s roof and surmised it would be below-ground since the depths of the earth provided natural protections, especially for those who dealt in magic. It was a hunch, but knowing how Gideon’s copy worked, Levi guessed the original black opal would not have been kept too far from the original, lest the spell connecting it to the fake be weakened.
Heading purposely for the staircases and avoiding the elevators, Levi descended into the bowels of the building at remarkable speed. When he reached the targeted floor, he was met with an electronic lock, interfaced through a numerical keypad and a biometric scanner. Normally amused by such security precautions enough to manually deactivate them, tonight Levi simply placed his hand over the device and tripped the tumblers.
The door led to a darkened hallway which opened to a single room, void of cameras, which wasn’t surprising. One such as Gideon would not dare allow himself, or his experiments, to be recorded.
There were, however, papers and instruments galore.
Raking his long, sharp nails slowly along the meticulously scribed notes on Gideon’s writing desk, Levi left a fuse-like trail of thin blue flame which illuminated the dark room and quickly licked the papers to ash. He gave a husky chuckle imagining the look on the master vampire’s face after seeing what had become of his research. And just knowing the mischief he was causing was enough to make the tips of his ebony hair turn a fiery aqua, pricking with delight. Before he gave into the temptation of vaporizing all the books on the shelf as well, a familiar sight caught his attention reminding him of the reason he came.
Hanging from a simple wooden stand under a glass dome rested Madeline’s original pendant and chain.
The tips of his claws heated to a blueish-white. He circled them around the top of the dome producing an eerie whine akin to rubbing the edge of a glass. In moments, the glass melted, leaving a hole in the dome large enough to reach his hand into.
Cautiously, he removed what belonged to Madeline and confidently sauntered out.
After what felt like many hours later, Madeline stirred.
Eyes still closed, she extended her arm to wrap around Levi’s body, only he wasn’t within reach. She had remembered falling asleep in his embrace, completely spent, but as she opened her heavy eyelids she discovered that not only was he not within reach, he was no longer in bed.
And there was a strange light coming from the open-air bath.
Sitting up, she grabbed the bathsheet that had been haphazardly strewn on the duvet hours ago and wrapped it around her body. As she approached, Madeline became aware that the light wasn’t coming from any fixture, and it was bobbing oddly in the air.
Soaking in the bath was Levi, rolling a golfball-sized flame of blue light back and forth over his knuckles. As Madeline opened the glass door to join him, she noticed he was completely nude.
A blush spread over her cheeks.
“Still shy after all that?” He whispered teasingly, extinguishing the flame and cloaking himself in shadow. “How did you sleep?”
“Great,” Madeline smiled back sheepishly as she sat on the edge of the bath, eagerly dipping her feet into the warm water. “You?”
“I didn’t, actually,” he replied, reaching for something in the artificial grass that carpeted the ground around the tub. “But I did put all that energy you gave me to good use…”
Extending his hand out to her, Madeline couldn’t believe what rested in his palm. It appeared to be her necklace. The real one.
Splashing down into the water next to him, towel and all, Madeline clasped both hands around his.
“How did you get this back?!” she asked excitedly. “Gideon had it, didn’t he? How did you know where he was?”
“I went back to the Tetsugawa building and tracked it from there, betting that was the only place in Japan Gideon would have kept something that important.”
Madeline had so many questions. How did he get past security to wherever Gideon was keeping the necklace? Did he have to suppress his scent again? Did he have to fight anyone? And why was he so eerily calm about it?
A throaty chuckle interrupted her thoughts, followed by a sigh as Levi tossed his head back and looked up at the pre-dawn sky.
“They’ll notice it’s missing, but they won’t suspect it was I who took it,” he revealed. “I didn’t go as Levi the Thief.”
Eyes widening, Madeline was surprised by his abandonment of common sense.
“I thought you told me it was imperative we kept you a secret,” she stated, voice dropping to a whisper as she removed the necklace from Levi’s hand and brought it to her chest, fastening it around her neck. “Why did you do that?”
Looking at his now empty palm, Levi called forth another ball of flame, this one a bit larger than the previous one. It spun slowly, floating above his hand in a fully controlled rotation.
“To be honest, I’m not really sure,” he confessed. “I wanted to? It belonged to you? It sounded like fun? A combination of the three I suppose.”
Biting her lower lip, Madeline stared at the sphere as it rolled, flames licking the air. After all the talk about why he was masquerading as a felinae, he just decided to roll out on the town, in Japan no less, as his true self. It was no revelation that her desire was energy to him, but tonight he responded to it differently. It was almost as if he got high.
“Are you sure you did the right thing?” She asked nervously. “Is this a momentary lapse of reason?”
The cerulean ball of flame vanished into thin air, and shadows once again engulfed them.
“I don’t think so. It was more along the lines that I’m out of practice being me,” Levi tried to explain. “Last night sort of... supercharged me. It grabbed Leviticus by the scruff and tossed him aside because he was not allowed there.”
Madeline let out a laugh.
“What?” Levi asked, arching a brow.
“When you think about it, it makes sense, right?” she said as she scooted next to him in the bath, wet towel clinging to her upper body while the lower half floated on the surface. “You impersonated Leviticus. You became this persona that didn’t allow the real you to exist. And since you told me it was you that became attracted to me, not the impersonation, that part of you was being selfish last night.”
“Ooo, aren’t we being haughty?” Levi smiled before leaning over and kissing Madeline on the cheek.
“I’m being serious,” she pouted. “Your ears last night were not the same ears you showed me at the Halloween party. And I’ve never seen your eyes like that either.”
“My eyes? What did they look like?”
“Well, they glowed an electric blueish-green and the pupils were slits. Now before you say anything, I know cats pupils take that shape in bright light, but it was dark last night. In all these years, I’ve never seen your eyes do that.”
“Those are my real eyes,” Levi whispered, sporting a weak smile, “So I guess you’re right. It seems when I’m under your enchantment there are things I lose control of.”
“Well, they are beautiful,” Madeline replied blushing.
“Thank you, but don’t expect to see them very often,” Levi warned.
Madeline pouted once more.
“News of your inheritance has no doubt circulated by now,” Levi began. “Which gives you protection from most of Leviticus’ enemies. However, I still have to keep up the charade of being Levi. And while what I did tonight was a bit impulsive…”
The heartbroken expression on Madeline’s face at his words caused him to backpedal immediately.
“I’m not referring to that. I’m talking about getting your necklace back,” he said as he flicked her forehead with his finger. “Baka. At the very worst, it made me a brief blip on my family’s radar. Which doesn’t really matter since I’ve planned to go see them soon anyway.”
Madeline couldn’t speak. She was only able to stare dumbfounded into Levi’s emerald eyes. They sent someone to kill him and technically succeeded. There was no doubt he was going to be in danger all over again. And though she thought him to be invincible since the moment she first laid eyes on him, this was something that could truly get him killed.
Seeing her rising panic, Levi drew Madeline into his arms.
“You can’t,” she protested, eyes growing hot with tears as the world around her blurred. “You’ve been gone for so long and I finally get to see you, finally get to love you, and you’re going to leave, and….”
“Shhhh,” Levi soothed, stroking her hair. The pain of her sadness wasn’t as bad this time. Perhaps it was the residual strength she’d given him earlier. “I will be fine, really I will. It’s a bit of a different situation now.”
“How so?” Madeline sniffled.
Levi took a moment to choose his words carefully. If he told her most of his brothers were mysteriously killed off and he was going to investigate, that wouldn’t help matters much.
“I’m going to prove I didn’t kill my brother.”