Winner of the 2020 Desert Rose RWA Golden Quill and Oklahoma RWA IDA for Best Paranormal Romance
In the decades since the shifters revealed themselves to the human populations, numerous
treaties had been negotiated between the kingdom and the world outside the protection of the
palace. Most shifters opted to live among them, but that made for some interesting legal
One of which that was absolutely inviolable, though, was all incidents concerning matters
of the crown were the purview of the Royal Guards. No half measures, absolutely no exceptions.
Dealing with the human cops had been a breeze compared to dealing with Commander
Vasily Brețcu, head of the Night Watch for the royal house of Lupine. The moment the Strigine
rolled up on the scene with his crew of tastefully dressed minions, the cops ceded jurisdiction
almost instantly. Their fearful expressions were politely ignored but noted. Vasi, as Finn called
him, had a rightfully earned reputation as a dangerous, scary dude. ‘Eyes in the back of his head’
wasn’t a metaphor when you’re an owl.
Head and shoulders taller than her, he would look right at home on one of those
firefighter calendars she pretended not to buy. With his silver-streaked dark hair in a bun at the
base of his skull and in his flawless black on black suit draped expertly over the body of a minor
deity, he looked like he’d just as soon bite everyone in the room as look at them. The ability to
engender that level of wordless terror was the mark of someone damn good at their job.
The intel that came with the job indicated he may be a good ally eventually, but the client
was still vetting him. Son of Romanian immigrants, he had been Force Recon with the Marine
Corps before coming to work at the palace. He was fastidious, smart, and going to be a damn
nuisance to keep ahead of if she planned to remain hidden in plain sight. Fortunately, this was
something she’d trained for as well.
With a flick of his wrist to dispatch his cadre of agents throughout her safe house-
disguised-as-a-townhouse, he glided right up to Finn, giving her a passing glance that would strip
bark from a tree. “Highness, a word.”
That Finn moved to place himself between the two of them spoke well of him, though it
was unnecessary. The day she couldn’t take an owl was the day she turned in her wings. Eh,
okay, maybe not take him, but she’d certainly take great pleasure in fucking up his pretty face if
it came down to it.
When Finn pulled her to his side with his arm around her waist, it was all she could do to
suppress the shiver down her spine. It’s not fair how attractive he is, and I still have a job to do.
“Go,” she whispered as she turned her face to his chest. Playing the coquette was the easiest
course of action right now. Vacuous party-girls got little in the way of second glances. “Talk to
him, I’m not going anywhere.”
She could feel the brush of his lips against her head and a quick squeeze before he
stepped away to talk with his personal Guard by the French doors to the backyard, and she
busied herself tending to her lipstick and makeup while watching his crew root through her
abode. She was pretty confident that anything truly incriminating was either out of the house or
well-hidden. It wasn’t like they’d brought in ground-penetrating radar to look through the walls.
Then maybe she’d start to sweat, but for the moment, she was cool.
A pale-skinned, scarecrow of a man in a dark suit similar to Vasily’s wandered over with
a notebook in his hand a look of carefully banked trepidation in his dark eyes. Approaching her
was clearly not high on his list of life’s desires, but a necessity of the case.
“Yes?” She kept her tone clipped, playing the wary girlfriend part to the hilt.
“Ma’am,” his cheek ticked as he smiled shyly at her, “I’m Lieutenant Commander Osian
Driscoll and I have some questions for you.”
From her preliminary notes, she knew the young Cathartine was relatively new to the
squad, Brețcu’s second in command, newly promoted with an above average record. The dossier
had been shorter on some of the more personal details but for right now, she had what she
needed to handle this kid easily. “Call me Cora,” she offered with a tremulous grin and her arms
wrapped protectively around her middle.
His questions were pretty standard, and she kept her answers to mostly truthful. They met
in person tonight—and for the last few weeks, so far as anyone was aware—and went back to her
place. She found out he was the prince later. She didn’t really pay attention to politics. Worrying
caused premature wrinkles, after all.
For all the sharpness of his features and attire, his temperament was actually kind of
sweet. He reminded her of a cuddly puppy, eager to do the right thing. His methods of
interrogating were very casual, non-threatening which was impressive given his size. He loomed
as a matter of fact, but he went out of his way not to be intimidating to her and she appreciated
His questions were brief overall, and she didn’t have a lot in the way of information she
could share, so she played up her overall delicacy and daintiness. He seemed to take her exactly
as she presented. All the better for her.
It’s hard when the cover you had to work with was yourself, or at least most of her. It was
her burn identity, a last name of little renown locally, a socialite from out of town. It was all
accurate, more or less, and held up to the deepest scrutiny because of its veracity. She even
looked like herself, more or less. Opting to use a witch’s glamour as insurance because as much
as she wanted to be herself as possible with Finn, this was still a treacherous assignment. She
didn’t bear a lot of resemblance to her childhood self, but with the glamour, this was her, in as
authentic a form as she could manage. He’d deserved that.
The only potential downfall would be her. Letting too much slip through would out her to
the king and court in no time, and that’s the last thing anyone wanted. Still, this was as much of
herself as she could give right now, so hopefully it would be enough.
“Finnegan. What the actual fuck, man?” Vasi’s supremely pissed-off growl reached her
ears, bouncing off the glass nicely. “I can’t even tell you how many ways this whole thing is
completely fucked but it’s an impressive number. I’d expect this from Brendan, honestly, but
The deep sigh that followed made her toes curl. It was probably wrong that she could
recognize his voice from a mere exhalation, but it wasn’t like she had a shortage of secrets she
could take to the grave. “None of this was supposed to happen. I just came to see her and…” he
trailed off on a heavy sigh and she watched him card his fingers through his hair in frustration.
“And that’s another thing!” The sharp tone in the Commander’s voice made her glance at
the two men just in time to catch him snarling directly at her until her unrelenting gaze forced his
silver eyes to the ground in front of her. Wuss. “Who is she?” he hissed with his face just inches
from Finn’s. “What do you know about her? I have nothing on her in my files.”
“We were keeping it off the radar. She doesn’t want to be a public spectacle and frankly,
neither do I. This was just something for the two of us.”
Damn if he didn’t sound sincere, he was surprisingly good at this. Cora exhaled so deeply
she shrank two whole inches, not counting the heels. She’d been holding her breath waiting to
see how that conversation would go, and he held up beautifully.
“Uh huh.” Not that she expected Vasi to buy into it, but it was enough to back him up a
bit. “I’ll still need to check her out, of course.”
“Oh, of course.”
That was a cue if she ever heard one. “Sweetheart,” she purred as she slinked up to Finn,
slipping a proprietary arm around his waist as she nestled into his side, “should I be worried
they’re going to make off with my lingerie? You know I bought that little lacy pink thing for
your eyes only…” And the way he slipped an arm around her and blushed at just the right
moment felt like victory.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to get rid of this Corvid muistă?” Vasi asked the prince
with a viperish grin.
“How’s about you mânca-mi-ai pizdă?” At his slack-jawed stare, Cora made a point to
blink at him innocently with her head snuggled against Finn’s chest and kept her lips in a flirty
pout, even if her words were filthy as hell. Under other circumstances, she’d snatch out his
tongue, but that was not her role tonight. “I mean, since you know all about Corvids, I’m sure
you’re aware of our facility with languages, no?” The wink wasn’t necessary, but the mortified
red in Vasi’s cheeks and Finn’s subtle snort of laughter was worth it.
One of the flying monkeys from Vasily’s forensic team approached them with several
small plastic bags in his hands containing bullet fragments and gods knew what else, followed
closely by Driscoll. “Miss Westgate, I’m sorry, but it appears we’re gonna be here all night. Do
you have a place to stay?”
Cora opened her mouth to reply, but it was Finn’s voice that responded, “With me.”
Vasi was suddenly struck with a fit of coughing, but the prince was unfazed as he turned
to his friend. “She saved my life tonight, Vasily, and she didn’t have to. Having her as my guest
at the palace is the least I can do.”
If he was going to challenge it, the Commander of the Night Watch clearly thought better
of it. “Of course, Highness,” he clicked his heels with a deferential head tip. “As you wish.”