Mathias — Dragofin Mated, Book #3 Extended Excerpt

Mathias: Dragofin Mated, Book #3 by Mychal Daniels

Chapter 1

Wren Douglas… Miss Connie’s Diner, West End, Atlanta, GA

Wren Douglas took a bite of her meatloaf and wanted to moan in pleasure. Miss Connie, the owner of the Diner, had included Wren’s favorite meal as part of the daily specials. Meatloaf with onion infused gravy, parmesan mashed potatoes, and split pea soup filled her plate with some of Wren’s favorite comfort foods.

And this still wouldn’t be enough to change Wren’s mind.

Voices buzzed and silverware clanged against dishes. Packed to the brim, the Diner hummed with activity. As a foodie and pastry chef, Wren loved the atmosphere. She took in a big inhale. Delicious aromas of various meats, cooking onions, and other savory smells seasoned the air. But all this comfort wasn’t enough to keep the two friends from squaring off.

Wren’s best friend sat in front of her chowing down on a plate of brown stewed chicken, black beans, and yellow rice with a side of plantains. Quinn was the closest thing she’d ever had to family outside her deceased grandmother. Wren had success stealing a few of the fresh, fried plantains from Quinn’s plate as her friend continued to try to make her plea. Quinn never shared her plantains. This was a new tactic of hers. Quinn thought she was slick but Wren was onto her.

“If you would only come back to the Lair, we could talk about it. I get that you need a few days to yourself, but — ”

“Quinn, I’ve made up my mind. That’s your life, not mine,” Wren said, cutting Quinn off. She attempted a warm smile. The gesture offered to help her best friend understand and honor her decision.

Wren Douglas was many things, but a groupie or glutton for punishment wasn’t one of them. And yet, somehow Quinn Bradford, soon to be Quinn Drake if her mate had anything to do with it, didn’t seem to acknowledge or consider this about her. The roller coaster that had been the last two weeks of Wren’s life had opened her eyes to some truths and life-changing revelations. Spending the last two nights back home in her own bed had helped too. The distance between where Quinn now lived and where Wren needed to live in this reality were huge gulfs. Back to her normal self, Wren had a better perspective on what she needed and could handle. Quinn wouldn’t like it, but this was her life to live.

She loved Quinn and would miss her but it was time for Wren to branch out on her own and find her destiny. It might be dull and ordinary, but all hers to make as she wished. Her new outlook on life had released her from living in the shadows. Wren would live more — in a toned-down way — a way and speed she could handle.

For these last few weeks, Wren had tagged along on a fantastical and magical journey. During this time, she and Quinn had been initiated into a new world that contained the stuff of fairy tales. The sad part was fairies weren’t so friendly, at least not the one she’d encountered. Wren shuddered at the memory of Julia. Julia was a demented witch-fairy teenager, who had almost killed her a little over a week ago. She was sure she must have a touch of PTSD or another emotional trauma. Facing death at the hands of a pint-sized maniacal teen with magical powers would do that to anyone. Cowardice in the face of death didn’t faze her in the least bit. Call her chicken, turkey or any other edible bird; Wren wouldn’t be foolish enough to go back into hostile situations on purpose.

That’s what Quinn was offering. But it hadn’t been Quinn who’d almost bit the dust. Wren had to wonder if her friend would be so keen on asking her to stay if the shoe had been on the other foot. The answer was clear. Choose option A, life with a higher probability for repeats of near death adventure. Or option B, life as a successful pastry chef and bakery owner. Duh, that was easy — boring but safe baking for the win thank you very much!

If that whole almost dying thing had been the only part of it — like a fluke accident or something — Wren would have been more willing to give this new world a second try. No, that was only the tip of the iceberg. When she was around these folks, something weird happened to her. She could see stuff and the urge to blurt out things that popped into her head was increasingly overwhelming.

Who wanted to go around sounding like a sporadic psychic from some fantasy movie? Not her, that’s who. Then there was the fact that Dragons, Gryphon and a host of other magical beings did exist. And yes, a hot, sexy, fine, golden Gryphon who could make her want to jump him, on sight, was her biggest issue. Wren wasn’t herself around him — any of them. It was time to bounce.

She’d enjoyed every minute of it, but now her vacation was over. It was time to rejoin the rest of the mundane world, that was clueless of the other worlds that swirled around them. Wren would treasure these memories. What she knew was that this new world wasn’t for her. She was too slow; this world was too fast.

It hadn’t taken Quinn long to jump into the mix, taking to the life like she’d been born into it. Wren said nothing when, after only a few days, Quinn had mated with Lucien Drake. Lucien Drake the Dragon-shifter leader of this clan of powerful alien Warrior Guardians. Being around them, it was obvious they were meant for each other. But, outside the Lair and this world, could Insta-Mating like that be taken seriously in ordinary life? Quinn hadn’t even dealt with how she was going to explain it to her sister yet.

Oh yeah, that Lair — it was another thing to add to the growing list of why she couldn’t hang around. Even from across the street at the Diner, its pull was strong. Wren looked over to the five-story red brick building that sat away from the street like a beacon of strength. Its impressive facade was lost in these surroundings. Only those gifted entry inside by Lucien could see it. Steady and stately the Lair was more like a living creature of this new magical world than a building.

The sigh that left her didn’t go unnoticed by Quinn. Out the periphery of her eye, Wren could sense Quinn searching her for clues on where to take the conversation. But again, the building called to her. The coolness of the thick glass of the wall of the Diner’s front did nothing to deter her from plastering her side to it. It both supported her weight and provided a barrier between her and the Lair as Wren leaned against it. The truth was she couldn’t tear her eyes away from that building. Matt was in there too. Her fingers plastered themselves against the transparent wall of the diner as if trying to touch the building. That was her sign to break away for real. It wouldn’t seduce her to come back, no matter how much more she felt, saw and was when inside.

That… building was alive and resided in a whole bunch of realities all at once. Bringing an average person inside of it might be their death sentence. Wren shuddered at how stupid she’d been to introduce her other friend, Zia, to one of the clan members. If anything had happened to Zia because of Wren’s stupidity, the aftermath would be unbearable.

“Wren, Wren, are you even listening to me?”

“Not particularly, I’m savoring my food,” Wren said, licking the back of the soup-coated spoon.

That soup and her tongue sent Wren’s thoughts right back to her constant obsession — Matt. This was the main reason she couldn’t do this. There was no telling what foolishness she’d get into if she stuck around.

The Dragofin Clan, all the other worlds that existed, and mostly one Mathias Griffin were too dangerous for her to handle. Wren would have to get her fill of life without the huge helping of danger, possible death and heart-crushing rejection that lie the way of Matt and the Dragofin Clan. She’d reasoned it all out before the inevitable showdown that was happening right now.

Wren wasn’t a prude, but she wasn’t an adrenaline junkie either. What Quinn wanted her to do was live at breakneck speed. Wren wanted cruise control or to be able to stop and smell the flowers here and there. She didn’t have a designated spot in the Dragofin Clan other than member-by-default because she was Quinn’s best friend.

I’m no prude; I just need drama-free living is all. Wren needed this internal pep talk to keep her from making excuses to Quinn. Instead of quashing the argument, her excuses would only serve to give Quinn hope. Then they’d be here all day arguing.

No, Wren liked adventure — on a screen; not as a starring cast member. She still had recurring nightmares of the little witch-fairy, Julia, coming back to finish her off. Nope, that was enough for her to be good with not ever knowing all the danger that surrounded them. She was taking her figurative blue pill and going back to ignorant bliss, even if her heart ached at how much she was going to miss him.

“I hear you, but again I’m asking you to step outside of your comfort zone on this one.”

That tell-tale tingle in the pit of her stomach was the cue Wren needed to shut down this conversation. Quinn was once again pushing her buttons. Quinn wasn’t listening to her. That was one of the problems with things remaining status quo. Wren didn’t want to admit it, but adding to all the drama, her patience level had dropped a lot. Things got to her faster. It was uncharacteristic and unsettling. Wren was a hare’s breath away from the urge to fight at the slightest things of late. Instead of swinging at her best friend’s head, Wren concentrated on eating Miss Connie’s velvety split pea soup.

“Quinn, I know you’re excited about Lucien. I’m happy for you. But for me, I have a life outside that Lair, and I’m going to live it.” She held up a hand to stop her before Quinn could start her next barrage of words. “And before you say it, yes, I have a thing for Matt, but it’s just that. A crush that will pass once I return to normal life. Being with you and the guys has been great. My vacation is over and it’s time for me to go back to reality and my normal life.” She offered a smile to soften the next words. “I have a life and a job that don’t make room for the all-consuming world of the Dragofin Clan.”

Wren couldn’t continue to tag along as Quinn’s sidekick. It was best Wren do the adult thing and move on. Hanging around there much longer and it would get weird. Seeing how happy her friend was, made Wren respect that. It also gave her the needed kick in the pants to live her life. All she had to do was get one. That’s what the plan was. Live life and move on from acting like she was still a kid with all the time in the world to start adulting.

As Lucien’s mate, Quinn was ensconced in that world. It was exciting but perilous. If nothing else, Wren had gotten the lesson that peril wasn’t her cup of tea. After her brush with life-threatening danger fooling with the group, Wren wasn’t too keen on having a repeat of almost dying. She might be boring, but breathing outweighed death.

Her thoughts took her right back to the real reason she had to go. That gorgeous Gryphon shifter Matt would be her undoing. Matt was an integral member of the Dragofin Clan. He acted as the emotional regulator. It was his job to keep a harmonious balance within the group of alpha-male warriors. He was also the top close-combat fighter of the group. This meant he had little time to deal with a love-struck friend of his Clan leader shadowing him at every turn.

Matt had to be ready to be on the front lines of any dangerous missions they encountered. The thought of him fighting and getting hurt was too much for Wren to take. She didn’t want to admit that his shifted size and form also had her in fear and awe each time Wren caught glimpses of it in his aura. It was nuts with how discombobulated she was when he was around. All these indicators were the necessary proof Wren needed that her attraction to him wasn’t what she needed to feed or focus on. The best way to get over him was to get a real life.

Wren would get new hobbies, go to new places and even get new friends. Being in this reality didn’t mean she would miss out on living. It was up to her to do something about it. That started with her making a clean break. Wren’s attraction to Matt was clearly one-sided. That spelled immature crush. That’s what would happen if Wren kept hanging around him and the Dragofin Clan — get her heart crushed and possibly befall more danger.

“You look like you want to go over there.” Quinn had picked up on her inner turmoil over leaving and the effect the Lair still had on her. “Don’t you want to tell everyone goodbye at least?” Quinn asked in the distance of her thoughts.

“No, I’m good. Thanks, but you can send my regards.”

“My, how Antebellum Scarlett O’Hara of you.”

Wren didn’t miss the bit of sarcasm in Quinn’s voice.

“No, you have that part on lock. I’m more Melanie Hamilton in this flick.”

Wren couldn’t help the smile that accompanied that comeback. It was rare when her responses were faster than Quinn’s. This one had come right on time because Quinn was silent again.

Quinn had a new family, with new responsibilities. This already took up more time. Quinn had more things to preoccupy her. This left a lot more time for Wren to find out what she wanted out of life; past being a baker. Yes, this would totally work out. Wren had the perfect opportunity to get a new life.

Looking at an expressionless Quinn, she said, “This is great timing. I don’t worry about you anymore. You have Lucien.” Then Wren reached across the table to clasp her hand. “Quinn, you have your family. I have to go back to my life and make my way. That means I must work and take care of myself. There’s no insanely rich Dragon waiting around to sweep me off my feet.”

“You don’t know what your future holds. Wren, you’re getting caught up in your emotions about things that aren’t as they appear.”

“I’m old enough to know my emotions, thank you. That’s why I’m doing this.”

Quinn released her hand, pulling back. “Okay, fine. You know best.” Looking at her with moisture in her eyes, she added, “Honey, you deserve the best. You deserve the man who knows how to love you so hard you feel it all through your past. It’s possible that man isn’t out here. Please, don’t leave.”

There would be no use continuing this conversation. They were at opposite ends. Each wanted what they wanted, so Wren remained silent. She gave her friend another warm smile. Wren had comfort that Quinn would be all right. Lucien was a great provider and could handle all the situations Quinn could get herself into. Wren didn’t have the worries she used to carry for her friend’s welfare.

Wren had her health and a new outlook to rely on. Plus, the money Quinn had paid her back would help her get to her goal faster of having her baking business. At twenty-five, she had yet to make a dent in experiencing many things that most people her age had already conquered. Wren would be more proactive in her experiences. Leaving the long shadows that Quinn’s vibrant personality cast was priority one.

Quinn’s sigh floated on the air between them, lulling Wren’s attention back to the conversation. Instead of her customary way of trying harder or from a different angle, Quinn remained silent, returning Wren’s smile. This unsettled Wren a bit. She knew Quinn, and something had changed in this woman. Her best friend since childhood, Quinn was an in your face, have it her way type of person. The woman who sat here before her at Miss Connie’s Diner was calm and… accepting of her decision.

When it seemed the silence would grow to an uncomfortable level, Quinn said, “I see. No worries. I’ll miss you. Please don’t be a stranger. Instead of me or any of us bombarding you with requests to hang out, how about you get back into your routine and then call me when you have some time? If I haven’t heard from you in a while, I get to contact you for a wellness check-in, okay? How is that? I’m not trying to bulldoze you over with the guys or my new life, I promise.”

Well, this was new.

“And you’re not going to continue to harass me about Matt either? I told you he’s not that into me. I have to move on and — ”

“Say no more,” Quinn cut in. “I respect your decision and will be cheering you on. You do you, Wren. I only want you to be happy. I love you. No matter what, you’re my best friend. Being mated to Lucien and living with him and the guys at the Lair has taught me a few things. One of them is that love isn’t about getting what I want. It’s about giving support to those I love for them to have what they want.” Quinn placed a soft hand over Wrens. “I support you. Wren, I want you to have what you want out of life. I’m here and ready to do whatever you need of me… when you’re ready. I’ll miss having you around but understand. Please, don’t be a stranger is all I ask.”

Stunned and thrown off, Wren didn’t have a quick comeback for this new and improved Quinn.

“Okay, then thanks… yeah. I’m going to head out.” Wren pointed to the door, preparing to leave. “Got a lot to do before I go to work in the morning.”

Chapter 2

Matt Griffin, Warrior Guardian Gryphon — The Lair

He didn’t give Quinn time to make it through the door. Matt jumped up and rushed to her, crossing the area where he and the other guys sat.

Anticipation fueling him, he asked, “What did she say?” Matt didn’t like how on edge he’d been since Wren left two days ago. Spending so much time with her, he’d grown to love her ways and presence. There was a loss that he’d never experienced before with her absence.

Quinn gave him a look he knew all too well. It was a look of disappointment.

“How about we go somewhere a little more private, say Lucien’s office?”

The leader of the Dragofin Clan, Lucien Drake, stood at his mate’s suggestion. She looked over at him and said, “What are you doing. I need to speak with Matt in private.”

“Not without me, you’re not. This involves the Clan, albeit indirectly, but it has an impact on all us the same. As the leader, I need to be there,” Lucien said, turning in the direction of the second-floor office.

“Yeah, yeah, you want to be nosy,” Quinn said. “Why don’t you give Matt a choice on whether he wants you in our meeting?”

Matt could tell this was going to be a fight he’d best stay out of. Raising his hand in surrender, he offered, “I’m cool with it.” A look at Luc and he knew that had been the right call. “Lead the way, Luc,” was all he said. There was no use trying to keep anything from him anyway. That Dragon had a way of finding out things no matter how much secrecy any of them tried to use.

Quinn didn’t move. When Luc turned back to look at her, she stood a little taller.

“Look Dragon; I’m not going to have you bullying Matt around. This is personal. There’s no need for you to be in on what I tell him.”

The grumble from Luc’s chest filled the space. That was Matt’s cue to keep the situation calm. The fire between Luc and his mate was more than sexual. That woman got a rise out of him in almost everything they did. If nothing else, they kept the Lair hopping. She was fearless when it came to Luc. Some of the guys had started going to her to make their cases on things with him. When he’d heard Nolan call Lucien Mr. Grumble Butt like Quinn did, it had taken both Greg and him to keep Luc from tearing Nolan in two. “That’s a nickname only my mate can get away with. You got that?” Luc had said with the force of his threat clear.

Now, this little person, Quinn, was daring Lucien in front of his men. Did she have a clue what that might do to that cranky Dragon? Matt watched, hoping he’d be able to calm the situation if Luc started roaring. Instead, the man stared her down until he gave in and stomped back over to the chair he’d been sitting in.

“Fine.” To Matt, he said, “I want a full report after your meeting with my Quinn.”

Before Matt could reply with a quick yes, Quinn said, “No he won’t. Did he meddle in your business concerning me?” She gave Luc less than a few seconds to reply before speaking up again, “That’s what I thought. So, stay out of his business. If anything comes up that involves you or the Clan, he’ll let you know. Baby, the family is only as strong as the privacy barriers we can maintain. You must get used to the fact that these guys will all have mates soon. With that, they’ll need to have some things that are only shared between them and their mates. This is a great opportunity for you to start to practice respecting that boundary. What do you say, my Dragon?”

Matt didn’t miss the softness she used in that term of endearment at the end. Even though Quinn was a fire rocket personality, she brought peace and calm to Luc that he nor the others had ever seen. With her in the Lair, their leader was grounded and even cordial.

“I said fine. Off you go. I don’t want you taking all day up there yapping. We need to get your training schedule planned for the upcoming month. Hildy and Jax have to work around your training. I don’t want them too tired to complete this phase of their training because you didn’t make good use of Hildy’s time.”

“Shush your worrying Dragon. I’ll be right back. Give us about twenty minutes, and I’ll be ready for Hildy to teach me.”

Hildy spoke up, “Who said I was training you today? We still need to get the right whip for you. I’m not going to have you using one that puts both of us in danger.”

Matt wanted to laugh with the irritated eye roll Quinn gave the woman. These women added an element to the Lair that had been missing. It was true about a woman’s touch. With Quinn being here, Hildy had come out of her shell more, staying in the common area with the guys to hang out. Before Quinn’s arrival, she’d been nice, but kept to herself, mostly up in Ajax’s quarters. The more time Hildy spent with them, the more she appeared to blossom and come into her own. And her razor-sharp wit was a bonus. It was multi-purpose. Hildy kept Ajax in line, showcased her brilliance and provided comic relief when tensions rose among the guys.

Quinn started toward him. When she’d crossed the space where he stood, she turned around and asked, “Aren’t you coming? It’s not like Mr. Grumble Butt over there is going to wait around for us to finish all day.”

Matt had to laugh. This was comical. Luc’s mate had him wrapped around her little finger and the Clan was a benefactor of that blessing. As he trailed after her up the stairs to the office, Matt thought about Wren. He tried to push the curiosity down that plagued him. Would he ever win her over and have her as his mate? What individual dynamic would she bring to the Clan? She was sweet and kind. Her personality was almost in direct opposition to the more in your face ones of Hildy and Quinn. Hope that he’d see the day when she was his mate in every way, was the force that propelled him up those stairs to the office.

Once inside and the door closed, Quinn cut to the chase.

“She’s not going to come back anytime soon. Wren needs time to process all that happened over the last two weeks.”

The invisible punch that she’d landed with those words, had Matt grabbing a chair to sit down. He couldn’t process them yet. Instead, he sat allowing the emotions he’d been pushing back since Wren had left to sink in and absorb into his psyche. This was the last thing he’d wanted or needed to hear. His need to be around his mate had intensified since he spent time with her. Another thing was also clear; he felt weaker with each day she was gone.

That little bit of knowledge he’d keep to himself. Matt would have to process his emotions around him missing her or if it was an actual depletion of energy. The sluggishness was reminiscent of the time before he’d met Wren, only reaching far deeper. The fatigue etched his bones, down to his marrow even. There had to be a reason for this. Matt had hoped she’d at least agree to see him again to allow him to plead his case.

“Matt, come back to the room,” he heard Quinn saying as she snapped fingers at him. “I’m going to need you to use your words. What’s going on with you? I can see you don’t look or feel well. What’s up with that?”

He looked at the woman and remembered she was a Sibyl. There would be things he couldn’t hide from her. This must be one of them. Nothing was gained hiding from the piercing gaze of a Sibyl. Quinn was blessed of the Goddess for strategy. It might be that she had an idea of how to give him another chance to win Wren. Doing it on his own had been a huge failure.

“I’m here.”

“So, spill it. What’s going on with you? I can see this is hitting you hard,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s an understatement. I’m going to give it to you straight. I’m ill at hearing this news. Since Wren’s been gone, I haven’t felt as strong. With each passing day, I get weaker and weaker. Now, I don’t feel I’ll have the energy to make it back down these stairs.” He didn’t know what to do. For the first time in forever, Matt, the emotionally blessed Gryphon was at a loss. Looking at the small woman who had tamed the great Dragon, Lucien, he asked, “Quinn, what do I do? I didn’t ever think I’d mess up so much with Wren. I thought it was a given. We’d spend time together and she’d see I was her mate.”

Quinn looked over and down at the floor below. His heart dipped when she threw Luc a kiss. He wanted that — with Wren. Quinn turned back and came to sit next to him.

“Matt, you’re one of the most emotionally astute people I’ve ever known. What you don’t seem to realize still is that you’re dealing with an emotional dwarf. Yeah, I know it’s horrible for me to call my best friend that, but she is. Wren is clueless, directionless and daft when it comes to knowing what she wants. For her to be so pragmatic about everything else, when it comes to her own life and matters of the heart, she couldn’t guide herself out of a one-way hallway.”

He couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped him. “You know your friend.”

“Yes, I do, and because of that, I made up my mind to help you two get together. Wren doesn’t need to be tricked into seeing you as her mate, but she does need to be needed to see you as her mate. When I talked with her at the diner, I saw that she’s searching for some meaning to her life. Without her saying it, that woman still believes she’s invisible and my shadow here. I love her, but for the life of me, I could never understand why she always thought her life was boring or that she was bland.”

Matt smiled at Quinn’s words. She had a point about Wren.

“You know what else?” Quinn asked. “When she’s not so busy comparing herself to me, you or the rest of the world, that woman is the funniest, most unique person I’ve ever met. The things she does to explore her world are amazing. She doesn’t think I know, but Wren is a hobbyist to an entertaining nature. When she’s off from work, Wren’s schedule is full of great stuff to do. I’ve never wanted to intrude. Most of the stuff she does is of a solitary nature. When she does share, I love hearing about an adventure or new things she’s taken up.”

Matt wanted his mate. Talking about how great she was, wasn’t helping or cutting to the matter. “Quinn, I know how great and awesome she is. Tell me how to get her to want me. How do I win her love?”

Quinn placed a small hand on his shoulder and shook him.

“Dude! Didn’t you hear what I said? Wren is a hobbyist, and she needs to be needed. The plan is for us to find you a way to either join her in a hobby of hers or become one of her newest projects, where she feels needed.”

“I’m still lost. What do you mean? You know it’s painful for most humans to be around us. How do I do this without causing pain to the people who might be around us?”

The look Quinn gave him was unsettling.

“Never you worry. Leave it all up to me. Miss Connie and I have already been on the case. I’ve got some people I need you to meet. They’re new to one of the local universities’ teaching staff and stopped by to meet Miss Connie as a courtesy. You’ll enjoy meeting them,” she said, patting his shoulder.

“I’m still not following. What does meeting other people have to do with me winning Wren’s love and her becoming my mate?”

Quinn did that scary smile again. “Did I mention that these people are a drop-dead gorgeous set of female triplets?”

His groan was a bit louder than he’d wanted. “Quinn, I’m aware of the games humans play to make their intended jealous. I don’t want to do that to Wren. I only want her. You know as my mate, she’s the only woman I can even stand to touch.”

“I do. The triplets study synesthesia. They’re interested in studying you and Wren. Their interest in you is for academic research only.”

“Again, I’m not following your plan. How will this help me win Wren? And what’s synesthesia?”

“Oh, yeah, I had to ask when I first heard about that too. From my understanding, synesthesia is a condition in people that mixes up their senses. They experience the world differently from most of us. It’s a bit like sense tripping where they might be able to taste musical sounds, see flavors or hear colors. As for winning Wren… I’ll have to show you better than I can tell you. How about you put a little faith in the fact that I know my best friend. When I’m done with this situation, she’ll be more than begging you to give her a chance to prove she’s your mate.”

“Says you,” he said, not liking how this mysterious plan might play out.

“Nope, says Miss Connie and me. If you don’t trust me, would you give Miss Connie’s judgment a chance? Isn’t she like a mother to you all?”

“Yeah, a meddlesome, nagging mother, who happens to be able to heal us of just about anything.”

“See, you’re in great hands! Now, I need to get you a meet up with those triplets.”

“Oh boy.”

Matt wanted to ignore that tried and true sensation in his gut that said this plan wasn’t going to go as well as Quinn hoped.

Chapter 3

Wren Douglas… 4:13 a.m. — Restaurant Kitchen: Her workspace as the primary baker and pastry chef

“What happened to all my dry ingredients?” Wren looked at the dry storage area designated for her baking food stuff.

Paula, the new day-shift manager, came up close behind. Wren took a few steps forward and then another two to the side for good measure. This new manager had only been at the restaurant for two months. In that time, she’d already done a few things to creep Wren out.

After the Julia incident that almost killed her a little over a week ago, Wren was on high alert for anyone out of the ordinary. This… woman fit the bill. Wren had caught Paula staring at her and invading her personal space one too many times for her liking.

The only reason Wren called her a woman was because she said that was her name and she wore women’s clothes. Other than that, Wren would have had to guess. Unlike one of the night chefs who was a gorgeous transgender male to female, nothing on this woman stood out as either gender. Paula didn’t look like she could have been a man either. Experiencing Paula was like looking at a general representation of a neutral gendered person. That was fine. What wasn’t fine was Paula standing way too close, staring and an inability to show any depth of facial expressions or body gestures.

Wren had to get past it. She wasn’t even sure why this person irked her the wrong way. She was usually accepting and welcoming of living on the fringe and unique personalities. God knew she wasn’t all that hot to trot in the uniqueness spectrum herself. But, it was something about Paula that drained her and made it hard for Wren to enjoy or at least tolerate being around her.

Paula spoke in that neutral vocal range that could be either gender. “Oh that, there was a fire a few days back. It seems a new night-shift employee didn’t read your instructions for storing all those pistachios you use for the macaroons and ice cream. He moved them over there, closer to the wall next to the stoves where your dry ingredients were located.”

“Let me guess, they exploded.” Wren couldn’t believe the improbability of the situation, but the proof was staring her in the face. Scorch marks made a smoky trail up the bare wall. “And now, over ten pounds of pistachios and many pounds of other dry ingredients are gone. I made sure the directions for storing everything was clear as day. Everything is gone. What am I supposed to use for the daily order now?”

“I’ve been instructed to let you have the day off. That is after you place an order to replace your ingredients.”

Yes, this was confirmation. Everything about Paula irritated Wren. She pushed past the desire to walk out and try it again tomorrow. They had to figure out what to do about the situation.

Wren said, “What about the bread and other things needed for the retail side of the front of the house? Let me use some money from petty cash to place a quick order from the Baker’s supply warehouse.” Looking at her no-frills work watch to see she still had time, Wren finished, “If I place the order before five, they can have it here by seven. Won’t be enough time to have anything but the quick breads and donuts done, but something is better than nothing.”

Paula’s form slithered more than moved into the pantry space next to Wren. Yep, it was official. Paula had to be a freak in her outside life.

“No worries. We placed an order with your friend, Zia, to provide most of the goods today.” She looked over at Wren, giving her an up and down assessment before adding, “Didn’t she tell you? This way, you can replenish your pantry and have a fresh start tomorrow.” Paula turned to leave the smaller room. Over her shoulder, she said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be paid for a full day. We’re glad to have you back. Upper management didn’t want you dealing with restocking after that hiccup of a fire and trying to fill the case for retail this morning. Once you get everything done, you can take off.”

The finality of Paula’s tone grated on Wren’s nerves. This was why she wanted her own business. And, Zia! Why hadn’t she told her about this? Wren caught herself pacing in the little room that was her baker’s pantry. Looking out into the larger part of the kitchen dedicated to baking, she eyed her baking assistant coming in. That meant it was almost five and time was ticking.

Before she could tell the assistant the plan, Paula pulled the young man over to the area outside the office. Wren made it up to them in time to hear Paula say, “After Wren finishes, you’re to help the prep staff with the regular food items again today. They’ll be here at nine.”

Fuming wasn’t a strong enough word to describe Wren’s mood. This new manager was under her skin like a splinter. How dare she take over dealing with the baking assistant like that. Swallowing down the anger that threatened to erupt, Wren counted and breathed. When the assistant gave her a weak smile and left to await her instructions in the baking area, Wren seized the moment.

“Paula, I don’t know what’s been going on since I’ve been gone, but I have things for my assistant to do, even if I’m not here. There will be things for him to finish up today that won’t allow him to peel potatoes and cut up other vegetables. In the future, would you wait until I’ve had an opportunity to give him directions for our day before tacking anything else on?”

The woman didn’t miss a beat. “As an employee of this restaurant, he’s tasked with meeting any needs we have. I’m currently down a food prepper. He’ll need to fill that gap until I can hire another person. I suggest you figure out how to make efficient use of his time. After nine, he’s on the clock as my food prepper until further notice.”

“But that’s only half a day of his time with me! I need him until one in the afternoon. Ooh, I can’t work like this!”

Wren didn’t care what the woman needed, she was done cowering and being in the shadows. If the last two weeks of spending time with kick-ass people had taught her anything, it was that life would pimp her as its bitch every day and in every way if she didn’t stand up for herself. To hell with keeping the peace, that was an illusion at best. This woman had stepped to the wrong Wren today.

The narrowing glint in Paula’s eyes didn’t escape Wren. “We can come to an understanding. How long do you think you’ll need him today?”

“Like I said, until one.”

“Will this be the case tomorrow as well?”

“Yes, and every day after. That’s why I hired him. He’s my baking assistant, trained to do baking tasks.” The little base Wren had put in her voice had its intended effect.

Paula nodded, “I see. I’ll look for someone else to come in today.”

“Yes, you do that,” Wren said, liking that she’d won this battle. It was evident there would be more to come with Paula. The woman looked like she could hold a grudge. “I’d be more than happy to give you the number and contact person at the Campus collective job center where I found Ben.”

At hearing his name, the young man looked up and then back down again, to stay out of their little skirmish.

“I won’t keep you from your work. You can leave the information on my desk. I have to get out to the loading area to meet the regular supply trucks.”

“Will do, tootles.” Wren smiled, leaving a trail of smirk as she turned to head back to her area.

The nerve of that woman.

From here on out, Wren wouldn’t take anything from anyone for any reason. Life was short, and she was going to make it her bitch!

Leaving work early as not to shank Paula with a butter knife, Wren whipped out her phone to call Zia. Her friend had been a ghost for the last week after meeting her at the diner. It was time to catch up and figure out why Zia hadn’t told her about supplying the restaurant with product in her stead.

The line connected. Wren heard the hustle and bustle of activity before Zia spoke.

“Hey girl, it’s Wren,” she said. Wren listened to see if she could catch any tell-tale hint of anything in Zia’s next words.

“Hold on, Wren. Let me finish up with this customer, and I’ll go to the back so I can hear you better.”

I bet you will.

Wren shook the snide thought aside. Zia hadn’t done anything to slight her in the almost three years they’d known each other. She’d get to the bottom of this. For all Wren knew, Paula might be trying to mind trick her into having beef with Zia. There wasn’t anything she’d put past that flat sheet of beige that breathed. The woman was bland, and that was something coming from Wren who had no life.

“Okay, girl, do your thing. Put me on hold. I can wait,” Wren said hoping the cheeriness in her voice was believable.

Outside of the restaurant, it was sunny out. The walk to the Marta Train station would be a pleasant one. At a stop light known for being longer on this side street, she made good use of the time to pop in her headset. A harsh coldness slinked down her spine as if someone was watching her. After scanning the area for any lurker and seeing none, Wren crossed the street. She made it to the entrance of the train station before Zia came back on the line.

“Hey, lady! Glad to hear from you. How was the rest of your vacation?”

Okay, so there was no weirdness in Zia’s voice. Wren decided to push aside her misgivings and talk to her friend.

“It was great. Had fun but now I’m back in the mix.”

“Hold on, don’t you see me on the phone? Tell them we’ll have that flavor tomorrow,” Zia said, speaking to one of her employees.

For the briefest moment, Wren envied her friend. Zia had already done what she had yet to do — open and operate her bakery. That brought her back around to why she’d called in the first place.

“Wren, sorry about that. I’ve got a new part-timer who can’t seem to do anything without asking me. Don’t you hate that?”

“Yeah, but I guess it’s different when they work for you and not the company you work for too.” Wren couldn’t help that comment from slipping out. It was true, and she might as well accept it and move on. She envied Zia.

“Pfft — don’t think this is any better than managing for another company. All this shows is that I’m a piss poor judge of work ethic. My hiring savvy is nil. But enough about me, what’s up and how are you able to call me at this time of day? Aren’t you at work?”

There it was. Zia had cut to the point of her call. Wren started pacing at the entrance of the train station, stalling for a moment to get up her courage to say what she wanted. When the shrill of a high-pitched car horn startled her, that was the kick in the pants she needed to get on with it.

“Yeah, about that. It seems I could get off early today because of you.”

“Huh? How’s that?” Zia said. Wren could hear her moving and doing things in the background.

“Well, it seems Paula placed an order with you to stock the retail case today.”

“Oh, that? Yeah, someone called yesterday screaming about a fire and how you’d kill them if they didn’t get the order from me to help you out today.”

“And you didn’t see fit to tell me about it?” Wren had that bit of bass back in her voice. And, her temper was firing up too. How dare Zia make light of betraying her like this.

“Girl chill. I was trying to help the restaurant out and not cause you to have to scramble this morning. As for not telling you, I dropped the ball on that one. Plus, I didn’t want to dampen your mood coming back the first day. I figured you’d had a blast with your friend, Quinn, for the last two weeks. Who was I to dampen that mood with some regular work drama that could wait?”

And the steam in Wren’s mounting tirade was released like that. It made plausible sense to her. Put in the same circumstance and Wren would have done the same thing. Miss Day Manager Paula had tried it. She didn’t know she couldn’t play Wren that easy. The weight of suspicious worry lifted and dissipated. Zia wasn’t trying to do anything to undermine her at the restaurant. That’s why it always paid to go to the source before jumping to conclusions.

“Thank you, Zia. I’m glad you helped me out. The way the day manager put it, you were trying to do something behind my back.”

“Never that. You know me. If anything, they better try to stay in my good graces. I had to bring in extra help to get that order filled. I told them not to make a habit of it. Girl, I don’t know how you do that every day by yourself. You put out way more product than I do for a day.”

“It becomes a habit, and you don’t think about it. The restaurant’s bakery is doing well. With those art scene articles about the pastries, business has grown and stayed steady. Thanks again and we’re good.”

“Whew, thanks because I thought I heard a little bit of something there for a moment,” Zia said.

Busted. Wren fessed up. “You did, but again it was my manager trying to mess with my head. We’re good — promise. I know you’re at work, but now that I’m back how about we hang out later and catch up?”

The silence on the other end from Zia piqued Wren’s interest. Zia had something going on, and Wren wanted to know what it was.

“Zia — what you got cooking? I know that pause.” Wren thought a moment, and then it came to her. “OMG — you got a new man.”

“Well… it’s still early yet, but I like him. He’s not like anyone I’ve ever known. Kinda funny too because he’s not a guy I would have ever seen myself dating in a million years.” Zia sounded happy. Wren didn’t want to douse her hopes in the guy, but the thought that she’d seen her as Greg’s mate couldn’t be so easily pushed aside either.

“Oh, I see. When did you meet?”

“I know what you think that I liked your friend, Greg. To be honest, he’s the type of guy I’ve always prayed I’d end up with. But this guy — his name is Patrick — came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. When I didn’t hear back from Greg after our Diner meeting, I thought he wasn’t that into me. So, I gave Patrick a chance, since he was so different from that dreamy Greg.”

“But didn’t you feel something for Greg?”

“Yeah, that may be the issue. I felt too much for Greg like I was falling for him with that one quick meeting. I’m not used to falling that fast and hard for guys. They usually are way more into me than the other way around. If I’m honest, my attraction to Greg is one-sided or way too fast. Wren, that new feeling scares me.”

Wren could understand what her friend meant. She was in her own scary place when it came to Matt.

“I got you, friend. As for Greg, he was into you too. He and the guys have had some assignments pop up that couldn’t be changed. I’ll let him know you’re off the market.”

“No! Don’t do that,” Zia said. “I’m only trying this out with Patrick. He’s nice and different, but I don’t see this lasting for more than a few weeks until my curiosity is satisfied. With what you said and Greg is interested, I might be available soon. Patrick is nice, but I can’t shake the feeling that the other shoe hasn’t dropped with him.”

“What do you mean by that. And as for Greg, I love you, but if you try to play him like you do your other men, I’ll take a bread knife to you myself.”

“No need for violence there, Missy. I only mean that the curiosity I have for Patrick is more about figuring him out than romantic. I’ve got a tingling suspicion he’s after something he thinks I can give or get from me. You and I both know how these guys are. You also know I’m not up for that.”

Something about what Zia said put Wren’s senses on high alert too. That was something they had in common — a healthy distrust of most of humanity.

“Okay, do your thing but don’t leave my friend Greg hanging. I can tell you; he’s the real deal.”

“I sure hope so. All right, break time is over for me. My part-timer might be hiding. Just heard the service bell. I’ve got a date with Patrick and then some event to attend with him this weekend. How about we circle back up next week to hang out. I’ll fill you in on everything then. I might be free to meet up with Greg again by then as well. I don’t think Patrick has what it takes to keep me that interested.”

“Zia, my friend, your mind is dark — so, so dark and I love it. Now rescue your customers from the attack of bad customer service. Don’t be a stranger because of this Patrick guy. Talk soon, bye-bye,” Wren said, using that funny voice they used with each other when girl-chatting it up.

With the call ended, Wren started for the entrance to the train. Tingles of flight or fight energy rocketed through her. She looked around again, noticing nothing out of the ordinary. Then it hit like a freight train. Flashes of blood, screaming, and turmoil flooded her mind with bright and terrible imagery. Rough cement scraped her arm hard enough for Wren to feel it through her chef’s jacket. She clung to the rough cement pillar for support until the wave of horror and pulverizing fear abated.

When she had enough composure to continue, Wren had to hold her hands together to stop the shaking. Once she made it home, she’d consider taking some type of self-defense class or learn how to operate a weapon. The feeling of being watched was real, and she’d be the fool to ignore it.

Chapter 4

Wren — Archery Club, Kennesaw, GA

The arrow sliced through the distance, hitting the target in the outermost ring of the bullseye. Wren’s heart beat fast with excitement.

“I did it!”

“See Wren, told you. You’re a natural,” her instructor said, giving her a pat on the back. “Get ready to collect your arrows once the light pops on.”

“Do I get to take the target as well?”

She wanted proof that this was her doing. Wren was on a mission to get some training on how to handle weapons. She decided to start with Archery. If she were good at it, Wren would work her way up to guns. This was also a way to get the Lair and the Dragofin Clan out of her mind.

Acting to explore her long-held curiosity in archery had been the right thing. Her life didn’t have to be boring without the excitement of her adventurous friend, Quinn. She’d find new things to do and ways to spend her time

The woman who was her designated instructor for the lesson looked down at the targets with a squint and said, “Yeah, but only after your lesson. We still have a few more distances to go today before you’re finished.”

“Oh — didn’t realize we weren’t done yet.” Her shoulder muscles screamed fatigue, and her upper body was in a full-press protest to stop.

Sounds of a group nearby caught Wren’s attention. She turned to see a group of teens who looked like they’d tumbled out of a modeling lookbook. They all were sleek, tall and beautiful. Wren watched as they lined up their arrows as straight as a professional chorus line. When their equally fetching coach gave the signal, the group released their bows.

The sight was visual poetry, and heartfelt song as the arrows soared. Even from where she stood yards away, their arrows made the whispery music of success as each hit its intended target. She watched in fascination as the group crushed it. Each of their aim and accuracy was spot on.

Wren blinked to make sure what she saw was real. The row of targets at the end of the field each held many arrows vying for the center of the bullseye. It was unreal, their precision and skill. Her measly one arrow didn’t look so hot now.

When she turned away from the adolescent archery deities to rejoin regular humanity, Wren’s breath caught. Their adult and legal to look at coach spotted her and winked. He was too handsome, in the way that he didn’t look real. No joke, even from the many yards separating her from his group, Wren could see this guy, and all the kids had this one in a million DNA lottery jackpot winner appeal.

For a nanosecond, Wren thought she saw the group’s aura filled with magic that popped and crackled. It couldn’t be. Her mind must be still trying to cope with common reality by seeing things that weren’t there. Wren did miss the Lair and all the amazing things she could see when inside. That group was gorgeous, but she wouldn’t place fantastical magic or any other embellishment on them.

Her instructor noticed the group and said, “Aren’t they amazing? That’s the Junior Olympic Archery Development Program or JOAD for short.” The woman nodded to the group. Wren was still so stunned she couldn’t remember the woman’s name. But it was clear she was just as taken by the sight of them as Wren was. With a shy point in the direction of the coach, the instructor added, “And, that’s their coach, Coach Donnelly. He’s amazing, and those students are the best in the region. This group is in high school he’s working with today.”

Wren couldn’t believe they were in high school. “Please tell me there isn’t a college level league of them. I don’t think the local colleges could handle that much aesthetic perfection.”

“Most of the college-aged archers get plucked up by major universities around the world. Those who have archery programs with hefty full-ride scholarships scout them early.”

“Didn’t know there were scholarships involved with archery.”

“There is when there are Olympic medals involved. That’s why they start so young. Coach Donnelly has a group that is as young as six years old that has lessons and practice here.”

“It’s like they came out of the womb with a bow and arrow,” Wren said, marveling as she watched as the group performed the synchronized feat again.

“I guess you could say that. These are elite athletes. That’s all Coach Donnelly will work with.” The instructor glanced back over at him with that look Wren knew only too well — the one of a woman crushing hard on a man. When she spoke, her breath was, well breathy, “He’s awesome and only works with the best. Many of them have a great chance of making it to the Olympics soon.”

Wren heard the pride lacing the woman’s voice as she gave her more information than needed to finish their lesson. The large light flashed giving a two-minute warning for everyone to finish up the round. When the light became solid, the instructor motioned for them to move toward the targets.

Wren stopped to pick up her arrows that didn’t quite make it to the target along the way. Once there, she stood taking in the lone arrow that made it.

“It might be one little arrow, but I still should have brought my phone to take a picture. Never thought I’d get an arrow inside the zone on my first day.”

“I’m sure you’ll have many opportunities to take pictures soon. Although you might not see it yet, Wren, your form, and body respond well to the bow. Keep working at it, and the upper body strength will come. And,” the woman looked back over to the teens who were gathering arrows that littered their targets and added, “Don’t compare yourself to any of them. Most have been shooting and practicing since they were old enough to hold a bow and arrow.”

“Thanks. They make it look so easy. I know I can’t rush mastery, but I’m intimidated by people who aren’t old enough to vote or pay taxes yet.”

“Even more reason not to compare yourself. They don’t have adult responsibility. Give yourself some credit. I’ve worked with people who took months to develop enough strength and feel for the bow to get an arrow into the target.”

Wren’s chest stuck out a little at this high praise. If the instructors worked on commission, this one was doing her job.

“It’s decided then; I’ll sign up for a membership and keep coming,” Wren’s announcement rang true. She wanted this and would do it.

Thoughts of how much she’d like to share this with Quinn were quickly pushed aside. Wren would retrain herself not to always want to hang out with Quinn. It was a habit she’d have to break.

Now that Quinn was mated, their relationship dynamics had changed. It had been about three weeks since their lives had turned upside down with their introduction to the Dragofin Clan, the Lair, and the other world that lived all around them. So much had happened in less than a month. Wren felt the growing distance. Quinn’s life was consumed with being Lucien’s mate and learning everything she could about his world as it should be.

The week after their breakfast at the diner, Wren had stopped by for a visit. With Quinn’s blessing, she’d made sure Matt, and the guys were out on one of their assignments. It was a grace Quinn had agreed to have her over when it would just be the girls and Ajax around. The new understanding Quinn was a nice and refreshing one. At the Lair for their visit, Wren quickly learned some things never changed like Quinn’s zest for adventure and life.

Wren should have also known nothing would be the same as she’d left them. She got to the Lair in time to witness Quinn’s new daily routine. Her friend had taken up fight training with Hildy. Hildy, who was mated to Ajax who was the youngest member of the group, was a warrior Siren and Assassin. Wren said a quick prayer of thanks that Hildy liked her.

It was hard not being there with the gang. They had become like family to her, but that was a mirage. Wren knew it took more than a few weeks and some adrenaline filled events to make a real family. In her usual fashion, Quinn had made her case for why Wren shouldn’t leave as her vacation was coming to an end. Quinn had tried to get Wren to move to Nashville to live with her the year before. Now it was the Lair where they all lived that Quinn was pushing. If nothing else, Quinn had been her normal persistent self then. Wren wasn’t Quinn, and she didn’t move at that speed without more information and investigation.

Yes, she had a huge crush on Matt Griffin. And yes, she would love to have a relationship with him, but that whole Warrior Guardian Dragofin Clan thing with danger wasn’t her thing. Plus, Wren was boring. Even if Matt somehow wanted to date her, as soon as he realized she was no Quinn, and no fun, he’d drop her.

Then there was Quinn’s latest obsession. Somehow, she’d convinced her mate, Lucien, it would be a great idea for her to learn how to use a whip. Hildy was tasked with teaching her. When Wren had come to observe their lesson, Quinn had almost kissed her with the tip of the thing in her zealousness to use it. Thank God Hildy had been there to wrestle that instrument of torture from Quinn before she managed to whip them both.

No thank you.

Wren had found something that would give her an outlet. Archery had called and pulled on her interest all her life. With all this free time, away from Quinn and her other friend Zia, Wren had time to explore this and some other interests to keep her busy.

Reaching to yank the solitary arrow from the target, a rush of energy overwhelmed her. Wren was awash with adrenaline and the need to do something. What? She had no clue. Willing herself to keep it together, Wren snatched the arrow out of the hay bell. When she put it back into the quiver flashes of blood and screaming besieged her mental eye. Stumbling from the impact, she grabbed on to the hay bell and allowed the vision to run its course.

She felt a hand on her shoulder when the woman spoke, “Hey there, are you okay? You stumbled. Do you need any water or to sit down for a moment?”

Waving her off, Wren said, “No, I — I need to…”

Unable to focus on the woman, Wren searched the field of archers, looking for the incident. When she saw nothing out of the ordinary, she spoke. “Sorry about that, I thought I remembered something.” Wren hated to lie, but couldn’t explain what had happened to her. “I’m fine. I might be running out of gas. Watching it on TV, archery looks easy. In real life, it’s a workout.”

The woman continued to eye her as if assessing her wellness. “All right, we can put the remaining part of your lesson on another date. Wouldn’t want to overwork you on your first day. We want you to come back.”

Wren smiled despite her churning stomach. The woman was trying to be jovial and keep her entertained. She’d get home and lay down. Of late, violent visions like this one came at unexpected times. Wren didn’t know whether spending time in the Lair with all its magic and otherworldly qualities had done something to make her more susceptible to visions like this, but it was another thing she’d added to her list of reasons to steer clear of the Lair. It was unfortunate. Her friendship with Quinn might be collateral damage if they couldn’t find time to meet outside the building and away from the Dragofin Clan.

No matter how much she crushed on Matt, there was no way she had a future with him or the Clan. Their lives were too dangerous.

“We’ll call it a day. Let’s get you over to the desk back inside to get your application done. This lesson and the preliminary training you received counts as your orientation. Fill out your application, pay your fees, and we’ll schedule our next lesson.”

Wren smiled at the woman. Like her, the woman could easily be mistaken for nothing more than a person occupying space. There was nothing special or particularly interesting about them. And, like Wren, she was about making things that matter happen. The instructor was straight to the point. They were here for archery. The next logical step was to either sign up or get going. Simple. This way of acting Wren could appreciate.

“Yeah, that works. I’ll follow you,” Wren said, pulling the rented bow and arrows onto her shoulder.

The soreness made her wince at the weight of the equipment. But it still didn’t wipe the sense of accomplishment from her smile. Wren had done it. She’d followed through on her plan to get her own life. Archery was going to be one of a few new hobbies she picked up.

After she’d finished the paperwork and paid her fees, Wren went outside to wait for the ride share driver she’d booked from the app on her phone. Wren could have sworn she saw Coach Donnelly watching her as she’d left. Shaking her head at the absurdity of that notion, she braced for the cooler weather that had come with dusk settling in.

The Archery Center was ways away from where she lived, but it had been worth it. Plus, the change of scenery to a different part of the metropolitan area of Atlanta was refreshing. If she kept this up, Wren might get her nerve up to take driving lessons to get her license. As fast as the thought came, she laughed it off. Driving was something others could do for her.

On the way back home, Wren relaxed in the back of the driver’s car. She occupied herself with a mental tally for budgeting in transportation and other costs to come to the Archery Center once a week. With a few more hours at the restaurant each week, she could cover that added expense. Things were looking up for her. Wren Douglas was excited about her future. It was on her terms and open for her to make it what she wanted it to be.

Back at home and in bed, she saw the missed calls and texts from Quinn. That would wait until tomorrow afternoon. Wren had to be at the restaurant at four in the morning. Unlike Quinn, whose mate and fiancé was loaded, Wren still had to work. Turning the cell phone over to hide the face and its notifications, Wren pushed back the pang of sorrow that stung her heart.

Over a week had passed. There were no messages, calls, or texts from Matt. She’d asked him to stop contacting her for her sake, and he’d obliged. Another clue that he’d only called and talked with her as part of his duty and loyalty to the Dragofin Clan family.

Wren didn’t have to know a lot about matters of the heart to know she was headed for heartbreak if she didn’t stop fueling this silly schoolgirl crush she was rocking for Matt. True to his word, he’d honored her request. She wouldn’t continue to pine for him. This break was on her terms, and she’d live with that. Yeah, it hurt not hearing from him, but she’d get over it — in time.

That dull thud in her heart ached once more at the thought of him. The involuntary shake of her head wasn’t enough to get her out of the brain fog that always came when she was lost in thought about Mathias Griffin.

Wren’s feelings for Matt could be summed up as admiration gone too far into the sexual ideation area. Cold turkey was the plan. This would help her get a grip on her emotions. Matt was only nice to her because he must sense how nervous she was around him. It was borderline embarrassing too. Wisdom had to prevail. She had to keep some space from him before her heart got torn to shreds.

Then there was the weird stuff that his presence had brought out of her. When she was around him, and especially in that magical place they called a home — the Lair — Wren could see his shifted form’s essence. Auras were more detailed, and things came to her all the time like rushing water. The best Wren reasoned was that his ability to soothe emotions must allow her to tap into more sources that could enhance her ability to see and know stuff.

This all sucked.

He was everything she wasn’t — powerful, fiery, sexy, mysterious and lethal. Being around him somehow heightened her senses to a point she could see things that she couldn’t when she was away from him. Matt was so cool that by being around him, she became cool. Yeah, this sucked hard.

Come to think of it, Wren was certain the only reason why he’d been so kind and patient with her was because of Quinn’s relationship with his leader, Lucien, and maybe to stay in the good graces of Quinn. Give them a single day away from the always fun Quinn, and Matt would tire of Wren faster than it took for Phyllo dough to dry out.

Turning over to sleep, tonight Wren didn’t attempt to stop the dreams that came starring Matt as she dozed off to sleep. Just one night it couldn’t hurt to dream about him and the fantasy that was their relationship. For the next few hours, in her dreams, Wren would be the woman skilled and blessed enough to be with a man of Matt’s caliber. She’d be adventurous, fun and beautiful. The dreams would have to tide her over until her heart had time to finish mending.

The last thoughts she had before sleep claimed her were of Matt with his brilliant blue eyes.

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