Jenn’s motorcycle jacket is a little tight. The zipper comes down, letting her breathe and setting off a round of laughter from Terry.
“Easy on the zipper, Sis.”
She scowls and swings her boot nearly as hard as she can, catching Terry’s ankle. His boots are sturdy and no harm’s done but the message is
clear. Comments on her weight are off limits even from her twin brother.
The wind catches his unruly blonde hair; a complete contrast to his sister’s tame brown braid. The usual joke that whoever mom was must have
had herself a busy night because they can only have different fathers is understood. He’s big and loud where she’s petite and excruciatingly shy. Jenn
has picked him up in the morning from the police station more times than she can count and he drops her off at her steady job as a bank teller before
sleeping it off at her Parksville apartment or his. Terry is her best friend, father figure, confidant and conscience all rolled into one.
He’s also her only living family.
“Maybe I shoulda bought you a man’s jacket.”
This time it’s an elbow to the ribs. He only wears a t-shirt and grunts from more than just his sister’s displeasure. It’s only a few hours since he
went to bed after a late one.
“If a man’s jacket is too good for you then it’s too good for me, Terry.”
“Touché,” he laughs but keeps his arm down in case she decides to strike again. The jacket is the last birthday present he’ll ever give her and his
suggestion she get one for a man earned him the finger at the motorcycle shop. She’ll be damned if she’ll ever dress like a man just to get a jacket
done up. The sleeves would be too long anyway since the five foot mark on the bank door is at eye level. She’s never been flashy so it’s plain and
black but it’s also clear she has all the right curves.
Jenn puts her hands on her hips and purses her lips, daring him to speak.
“You’re pretty, Shadow,” Nuke interrupts. His eyes rake down her body. The compliment is only tame because her brother is listening. Terry’s
forbidden him to speak her name so he calls Jenn after her ride, a 750. The handle stuck so long ago that at least half of today’s group doesn’t know
her real name. Everyone calls him Nuke because there’s a good chance his engine will do just that before the dozen riders get halfway to Tofino.
Terry punches Nuke’s body armoured shoulder harder than necessary and knocks him off the cement barrier he sits on. Nuke’s a big mouth on a
small body and he doesn’t land too hard.
“Fuck you,” Nuke spits.
“You’re still not my type,” Terry lights a cigarette. “But keep asking. You got nothin’ to lose.”
Jenn shrivels at Nuke’s attention, leaning behind her brother and tugging her jacket closed. Nuke thinks it’s a game, hitting on her to make her
‘pretend’ she’s not interested but she just feels dirty. Whether she ignores him or not it only escalates when her brother isn’t there to shut him down.
Terry’s fingers are under her chin and he pulls it toward the sun.
Hold your head high, his big eyes smile.
Nuke walks away kicking dirt and holding his tongue. He knows when his bike dies he’ll be riding Jenn’s Shadow since none of the guys will give
him a double and Jenn will spend the rest of the trip hugging Terry from behind. Terry’s boot scrapes his smoke into the gravel and he takes Jenn’s
hand, tugging her to their rides and signaling to the rest that it’s time to go.
“So where’s mine?” He reaches for her saddle bag. A week earlier Terry bid on a baseball and he’s still steamed about losing in the final minutes
to someone else. He doesn’t know he lost to his own sister who spent her vacation savings winning it for his birthday.
“You’ll get it later!” Jenn pushes his hand away so he hugs her like it’s what he meant to do all along.
Port Alberni is nice but it’s thirty-five Celsius and she’s sweaty in her jacket. A swim in the ocean is the only incentive to get back on the hot
highway. Unlike her reckless t-shirt and shorts wearing brother, Jenn prefers to be protected if she takes a spill.
Terry pulls out first. Jenn is close behind and takes some satisfaction in cutting off Nuke. The roar of engines behind them is nearly deafening as
they stick together as best they can through the traffic and lights and make their way out of the city.
Everything is drier this side of Vancouver Island. The cool rainforest they passed through before Port Alberni is gone and the road gets twisty.
Terry pushes the group faster, speeding up and leaning over as far as they dare in the turns. Another group of riders comes the other way and he gets
a hand out to wave then turns to Jenn, grinning from under his beanie. He loves this: speed, heat. Showing off. It’s a good day. There’s a place by the
river they’ll go when they get back to Parksville: drinking, camping, and the sounds of sex from the other tents.
Jenn winces at a small explosion and checks her mirrors. Nuke isn’t losing any speed but there’s a vicious dark grey cloud for the riders behind
him. Someone’s bitch seat girl mouths him off, her voice lost in the wind.
Jenn sets up for the next turn by moving to the center of the lane so she’s clear of anyone coming wide the other way and gravel near the shoulder
but there’s a pickup skidding out of control into their lane.
Terry doesn’t stand a chance.
His brakes don’t light up though his bike wobbles as some part of him starts to react. Jenn has a little more time and manages to lose some speed.
Her heart sticks in her throat as her brother makes a Terry sized dent in the truck’s front fender. His arms and legs beat the roof and Jenn catches the
rear of his bike. He’s already out of reach when she tries to grab him and as she tumbles he lands behind the truck.
It stops half in the ditch.
There’s no pain so Jenn thinks she’s unhurt and when she looks for Terry she sees Nuke. He doesn’t even look at her brother and comes to her.
“Jenn, Jenn,” he cries. “Shit, Jenn.”
“Terry,” Jenn moans. Why don’t you help my brother, asshole?
Nobody helps Terry. There’s a lump under her shoulder so she reaches to pull it free but it’s a boot and it won’t move. Nuke takes her hand and
holds it still as he looks at the wreck.
The driver gets out, unhurt. His passenger won’t stop screaming.
“Don’t look,” Nuke says but she has to. Through her deeply scarred visor she sees the big logo on the back of Terry’s shirt. The small one in
front is out of sight. He faces her: jaw slack and eyes half open. It doesn’t make sense that he could have put it on backwards without her noticing.
The air ripples and takes shape above Terry; half again taller than a man and gracefully tapered at the top. The mirage folds in the middle before
straightening again and collapsing.
“Thank you,” Jenn sighs to the shirtless man approaching her brother. The hot breeze moves his long black hair as he touches Terry’s shoulder
but only for a moment before he stands. The air around the man changes, thickening and spreading like wings slowly folding and unfolding. The
angel’s wings darken then disappear as he walks away.
The police arrive before the ambulance and Nuke leaves Jenn’s side only long enough to throw up. The beautiful angel is gone. The knowledge he
came for Terry is small comfort as she watches the police cover her brother with a yellow sheet and weigh it down with parts from his bike.
Jenn’s motorcycle jacket is a little loose.
Two years of choking grief will do that to a girl. She’s been sober for a week to make sure it isn’t the booze and pills that make her feel so
Nuke came to see her once in the hospital after they repaired her femur with a gross amount of titanium. It had been broken in two places and
bent beneath her in the crash. When he asked if she needed anything she asked for a gun to kill herself.
He didn’t come back.
Six months of surgeries and rehab get her back to work. Sleeping pills and alcohol take the memories away, at least for a while.
Insurance paid out Jenn’s Shadow and a nice smelling man Terry knew brought her papers to sign until his apartment belongs to her. At first she’s
surprised her shoot first brother had life insurance but he always shot first when it came to his sister. Dollars don’t make up for being alone. They
shared a soul and Terry took it with him.
The used 600cc sport bike Jenn rides is the fastest thing she’s ever taken down the highway. The last owner put a lot of money into it before he
knocked up his girlfriend and had to sell. It’s black and orange and covered in flames and sexier than anything Jenn would ever dare show on the
Today it carries her south to a liquor store she frequents; out of town enough that anyone local won’t see her stocking up.
Jenn rides free of the last knot of cars and finds a lone semi-trailer truck slowing for the lights at Northwest Bay Road south of Parksville. The
speed limit drops to sixty as the highway descends in both directions toward the intersection. It usually fills with cars like a giant bowl but today it’s
just her and the truck. A gas station covered with a big red roof is on her left but all her attention is on the rig. It gears down noisily on the hill and she
has to do the same to avoid nailing it from behind.
The number on the trailer gets Jenn’s attention, prompting her not to run the light. It has a T and a K. Terry Klein. And an eight and a two, the
age they were when he died. Not eighty-two; they were twenty-eight. The trailer itself is dirty. Even its plates attached high above haven’t escaped
the brown layer of filth brought up by its wheels.
Jenn glances at the stop line as she pulls up next to the cab, getting the toes of her boots on the pavement. Her mirrors say nobody is set to plow
into her from behind as lemony diesel exhaust makes her nose wrinkle. The summer smells great; other vehicles at the red light, not so much.
“Nice bike,” comes from up and to the right.
Inside she cringes. Nobody is supposed to talk to her today. It’s her day off and she’d planned a quiet drunk; the only regular companionship she
has left outside of work. Interaction on the liquor store trip makes Jenn’s drinking problem more real than she’s prepared for.
The driver should be watching for the green light and thinking about where he’s taking the dirty trailer or if he’ll need the restroom in Nanaimo or
if he can wait for Duncan. Maybe the air conditioning isn’t working and he misses the wife and kids; bills and the dog.
Jenn pushes her visor up out of the way and turns, drawing her eyes up the clean black door and past a pair of painted on gold wings to find a
muscular arm bound in a tightly sleeved black t-shirt.
“Nice truck,” Jenn echoes. It’s one thing to keep her eyes down and her mouth shut out of shyness. It’s quite another to be rude and not answer.
She hopes the lame reply is enough to end the conversation and presses her lips together, making her eyes wrinkle and giving the illusion she’s smiling
inside her helmet.
His big ringless left hand closes around on the metal bar holding the mirror. He strokes it, first away then toward the body of the truck. Jenn feels
her mouth open, tongue just touching the tips of her front teeth and his bicep flexes, pulling his short sleeve tighter. It slides again over the smooth
chrome before closing completely and her heart stutters as her gaze reaches his smile; warm and genuine even though she can’t see his eyes through
his dark lenses.
“Yeah?” he leans closer. Curly shoulder length dark hair perfectly frames his jaw and Jenn leans in response, her right foot flat on the ground as
the motorcycle tilts between her thighs.
As her pulse gets going again Jenn inhales his male scent and her skin prickles under the heavy leather jacket like sweat breaking out only her skin
stays dry. It’s a little painful and feels so, so good. He smells of straw and sun but underneath there’s something raw and dangerous; a far greater lure
than the quick buzz and blackout she still half looks forward to. It’s the scent of rebellion and she sets her jaw against the challenge. More than
anything she’s overwhelmed with the urge to crush it.
“Bet it’s nice inside,” she ventures with a glance at the traffic lights. The cars turning left from Northwest Bay Road don’t have an amber yet.
The trucker looks her over and it’s not the degrading leer Nuke used to get away with. This guy seems to size her up more as an adversary and
less like a piece of meat as he pushes the sunglasses onto his forehead.
Why can’t he be imperfect? Jenn wonders. Or less gorgeous? And what in hell are you doing flirting at a red light? You’re a bank teller,
idiot. Nice bank tellers don’t flirt!
Eyes so brown she can’t make out the pupils bore into hers and she stands a little taller, holding her head high and doing her best to look
confident and tough. For a moment his expression is a mix of power and fear, mirroring the adrenaline and shaky nerves dueling inside Jenn then the
warm smile returns.
“You want to see,” he states and calls out a couple of street names north of Duncan.
A horn honks. Jenn startles as she feels her motorcycle roll backwards. She crushes the handbrake with her right and she continues to roll as his
rich laughter fills her ears. It’s the illusion of reverse caused by his truck pulling ahead for the green. The horn blares again as the motorcycle stalls and
Jenn gets her trembling thumb on the starter. If he hadn’t stopped her heart already she’s sure the horn would have.
Jenn gets her motorcycle going, revving the motor too high as she mistimes the clutch and throttle for the shift to second. She’s going well over a
hundred before she’s out of the sixty kilometer an hour zone, focusing only on getting some distance between herself and whatever the hell she’s set
up with the handsome stranger.
The next few kilometers are a blur and she pulls into a Nanaimo mall, stationing herself at the far side of the parking lot. The kickstand is barely
down when she drops to the grass and rips her helmet off, venting the laughter that’s turned her knees to rubber.
Two years ago Terry would have pulled up between her and the truck and given the guy a ‘hey buddy.’ The only men he approved of came
figuratively pre-neutered or he offered to do it for them. It made dating hard but he’d headed off a lot of trouble. In spite of the predictably nice men
who passed his inspection, the one relationship lasting more than a couple of months had failed miserably.
Jenn watches the highway until the black truck with the dirty white trailer passes by then looks at the nearby coffee shop. She and Terry used to
sit at one of the tables out front for hours at a time. Jenn stuffs her helmet over one of the mirrors and buys a coffee before taking a seat at their table.
Terry’s seat is empty so she closes her eyes and imagines him there.
She senses his hand on her back, nudging her forward, rather than the more familiar protective brother vibe.
The coffee smells good so she wraps her hands around the paper cup and blows on the surface.
“I don’t know,” she whispers as she puts the cup down. “He’s not like anyone you’ve ever wanted around me.”
The breeze cools her skin and she realizes she’s crying. Maybe it’s simply the movement of tears running past her cheeks but she imagines her
brother’s fingers under her chin.
Hold your head high.
Mark Williams watches the unusual female pull away. Between gear changes he puts the window up halfway and pushes his hair behind his ears.
It’s early enough the morning sun shines straight in, glaring off the dash and warming his skin.
He doesn’t doubt she’s interested in him. Her nervousness is obvious and he suspects her age is partly to blame.
Yeah, but you’re still a kid, he laughs at himself. Not even a hundred.
The fact that she’s on her own could also explain her caution. Females rarely travel alone away from their eyrie and though she returned his
advances he suspects she’s in a hurry to catch up to her father or brother; the only males who should be with her.
A nervous glance at the empty sky reassures Mark that a rough encounter with them isn’t in his very near future at least. With his training he’s
sure he could beat them both to pieces but honour requires he take his licks if they don’t like him. As he pushes the heavily laden rig through another
gear he realizes she’s been away from her eyrie for a while if she’s learned to ride a motorcycle.
She could be a true rogue, abandoning eyrie life for the human world like he had years before. Many find satisfaction in service to the Sire and
Dame, the hereditary royalty, but not Mark. As Talon, the gryphon male in his spirit, he trained for decades to be ranger. A proud place in the elite
royal guard was the only service he felt worthy of him but seeing bigger less talented males selected time and time again put him off.
Instead he indulged in a female who appreciated him and his fighter spirit. She was a larger western gryphon, nearly his height, but she was flighty
and prone to wandering for months at a time with his own sister. They had all come to prefer the wind under their wings to the stone Jasper cavern
they called home.
Talon managed to abandon courtship as well by never offering Swift his bite though there seemed no shortage to the tears she would offer,
shedding them his way every time things seemed serious. Swift accused him of having commitment issues but in his heart he needed someone who
saw him as more than an intimidating male to show off to her friends or escort her through some human shopping mall while she picked out something
But this little female is different. A demanding vulnerability in her scent commands him to win her; a line he’d never even wanted to cross with
another. Her size could be driving him to be protective. Gryphons from this side of the continent are decidedly larger than those further east where he
was reared but she’s truly tiny, her scent so exotic he can’t begin to guess where she’s from.
He never thought he’d find vulnerability sexy but in his little female it’s searing hot. Maybe he’ll find her motorcycle ahead, her scent and clothing
leading him through the forest as he undresses and takes wing, becoming Talon and knowing she’s high above stalking him already. Their magic
would hide them from human eyes as he finds a clearing and enough space to spread his wings and take off.
Talon’s strength and size would overpower her and he’d revel in her submission before letting her go, anticipating his own terror as her speed
and agility let her get her claws to his exposed throat…
He hasn’t hunted like that with a female in years. The chance she’ll show up is slim. The chance she’ll stay interested long enough to hunt is even
slimmer. In spite of the weak prospects, he’s excited with the possibility.
You’re in way over your head with this one, Talon, his human voice warns the unfamiliar gryphon need for a mate. One shot. You screw this
up you won’t get another chance with her.
As he enters Nanaimo her scent grows strong and he leans toward the window, inhaling deeply. Mark groans with need, sweeter than when they
first spoke. Light brown eyes, he recalls, and her long hair tied back. As he remembers the shape of her ass straddling the seat her scent disappears
and he casts his eyes wildly about for any hint of her.
“Damn it,” he mutters, nearly tearing the wheel free in frustration.
It’s past one-thirty when Mark finally reaches the short strip mall and gas station. Even though he has half a mind to press on to Victoria to wait
for his next load he’s still hopeful she’s waiting for him.
That’s just your arrogant gryphon pride talking, Talon, he grumbles, though his human half hasn’t given up either. If she’s here it’s all about
her and how she wants it and you know it.
As he pulls in he catches the smallest hint of her on the air. If she was here she’s probably gone but her scent gets stronger as he reaches the end
near the pumps. Just past them he spots the front end of her motorcycle on the other side of an SUV. His pulse shoots up as he looks skyward
hoping for a glimpse.
Instead she’s curled up on the grass behind her motorcycle. The helmet is perched on the handlebars and her jacket is balled up under her head.
She’s even more exquisite with the gear off.
A small strip of ivory skin fills the gap between the rise of her denim covered hip and the hem of her white tank top. As he kills the engine his eyes
partially shift, improving his vision. He picks out a slim line of blue over her shoulder where the top slid toward her neck. Then there’s the thick brown
hair piled loose behind her.
Mark checks the contents of the grocery bag at his feet: condoms, jerky and canned fish. The bottled water is already in the small fridge behind
the passenger seat.
It’s clear she wants a human encounter and he’s glad he thought to run to the pharmacy for the condoms. He’ll be surprised if she’s not likewise
prepared but he’s expected to show courtesy and bring some too.
The conception of a child in human form would be catastrophic for both of them. If by some miracle she survived and carried it to term the child
would be human and abandoned. It would be a devastating loss for its dame though these days it was the human adoption system that took
responsibility. A century ago its sire would fly as far from the eyrie as he could, leaving the child to the elements and scavengers.
He pops the door, steps down the first rungs and jumps the last, his worn cowboy boots striking the pavement at the same time.
Easy, he warns himself. Females are sensitive to moods even in their human form and if he charges in ready for sex she’s sure to change her mind.
One step at a time and let her lead is the only advice he ever received from older males and he prays it’s worth the hundreds of rounds he’s bought
over the years to get it.
She sits and her sudden inhalation tells Mark he’s startled her but she doesn’t turn his way just yet. Come to think of it, all those older males were
unmated. Damn, it was the only advice he had.
“Hey,” she calls; the tiniest tremor in her voice.
“Hey yourself,” he steps onto the grass only a half dozen paces away. The young woman modestly tugs her top before she turns to face him.
“Sorry I’m late,” Mark tries to take her all in without clawing her up with his eyes. She’s perfectly proportioned, breasts slightly high and arms
toned and a face he’d never tire of looking at. In spite of his efforts not to stare he catches her looking him over and tries not to smile as her cheeks
Mark knows what he looks like: six foot two and nearly all muscle. He takes a seat behind her in the hopes of looking less intimidating. There’s
grass in her hair and he starts taking the little bits out one at a time. Her gentle musk is intoxicating as it mingles with the smell of summer from her hair.
After a minute Mark trails his fingers down her back and she cautiously reaches behind to slide a hand under his knee. As he leans forward to taste
her skin she moves her head to the side. It isn’t the symbolic submission of exposing her neck he expects but it’s enough to invite him in.
“Shadow?” a man calls from the parking lot. Mark is too focused on his dark haired beauty and curses himself for not keeping an eye out for
competition; both gryphon and human. “Damn, Shadow. I thought it was you.”
Shadow looks up. Her hand grips Mark’s leg and tugs him closer. She’s uncomfortable as hell with the little man and pulls her knees together,
arching into Mark. He reaches around, putting his hand over her womb in a display of possession usually reserved for mated pairs but Mark is dead
set on making his claim public even though the interloper is human.
“Hi, Nuke,” she says. Nuke waves with two fingertips as he palms his pop. His other hand is jammed down the side of his female companion’s
shorts. Mark stifles a snort. Nuke’s woman is six inches taller and a hundred and eighty degrees prettier. Judging by the big diamond on her left hand
the reason for her attraction to him is clear. It doesn’t keep Nuke’s eyes from wandering.
“You keeping busy?” Shadow asks.
Nuke shrugs and Shadow crosses her arms as Nuke’s eyes drop and linger. He appears to hear Mark’s low warning growl and remembers his
“My uncle got me a good logging gig up island,” Nuke says. “This is Bunny. We got ourselves set up with a nice apartment.”
Nuke makes eye contact with Mark expecting an introduction.
“Talon,” Mark says before Shadow is caught not knowing his name. He can’t decide which one of them is the predator. Nuke thinks he is,
judging by how he looks at Shadow but Bunny with the prey name has her attention on a nearby Lexus that smells of the two of them.
Shadow drops her eyes with what Mark first takes to be submission to the little shit then he scents deep pain in her, somehow associated with the
man. He must be meant for Shadow if simply being near attunes him to her moods. He was always fucking things up with Swift when he guessed
wrong but he’s already clear about Shadow. The old rogues never mentioned that and it explains why they were drinking alone at Cooper’s, the
Calgary rogue favoured bar. A small layer of golden brown feathers bristles beneath his shirt and he quickly squashes the idea of squashing Nuke,
letting them fade. Taking wing with his shirt on is something a child would do.
“Well… ah,” Nuke says with a sideways look at Bunny. She appears bored; rolling her eyes under thick fake lashes. “Good to see you doing
“Yeah, bye Nuke,” Shadow cuts him off.
Mark wonders, better than what? She’s far more distraught inside than she lets on and he rubs her shoulder with his free hand. Shadow deflates
as Nuke and Bunny walk away.
“Hi, Talon,” she says as the mismatched human pair drives off.
“Hello, Shadow,” he answers. He knows her gryphon name: subtle and secretive. Calming. It’s an appropriate name for this female who
appeared out of nowhere and into his life.
His female. Talon is going to make sure of it. No man like Nuke is ever going to upset her again. He’s surprised with himself. He’d always
thought taking a mate was about genes and temperament. A male wanted a healthy mate to be a compassionate and patient dame to his children but
right now children are the last thing on his mind.
All he wants is compassion for Shadow; not to posses but to be proud that she chose him.
As she straightens up he takes his hand from her stomach.
“There’s no, um, story to Nuke,” Shadow says like she knows the idea of the two of them together makes Talon’s skin crawl. “Nothing.”
When she turns to him she tucks her feet in and holds her head high before flashing him a brilliant smile. Damn, she takes his breath away. The top
is cut low and the sight of her skin and exposed neck makes him want her even more. Whatever the story is with Nuke it’s not sexual.
Then her hands are on his legs and she’s only a dozen inches away, studying him like he’s a puzzle. Below her furrowed brows her eyes watch as
she feels the muscle in his arms. Shadow’s delicate and persistent touch works its way up over his shoulder.
“You’re big,” she winces. “Sorry, that sounded stupid.”
But he doesn’t let her pull away. He takes her wrist and puts her hand right back where it was.
“Where I call home, I’m not considered all that big.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
Talon turns his head to the side, blocking access to his neck. As bad as he wants her, he’s not going there just yet. When he turns she’s even
closer and he lets her touch his cheek as her mouth opens. The mere wisp of her lips over his is torment and he tears up a handful of grass she can’t
Before he can come up with any plan to figure out how he’s blown it, her lips seal over his and he gives in as her fingers slide over his carotid. The
vibration of her nails on his half-days stubble rams straight into his groin.
I’m yours, Talon surrenders as her tongue tries his lips and he opens to meet her hot prying challenge with his own.
Shadow straddles his thighs and he takes her hips but her hand tightens on his throat as she takes control, remaining in the dominant position
above. Talon stops pulling and instead slips a hand under her snug tank, palm over her flat bare stomach, to show the distance between them is his
choice, not hers.
She seals the kiss around his tongue and yelps at the sound of metal crashing to the pavement. In what seems like an eternity he’s pinned her
protectively to the grass, already certain it was an aluminum boat falling off a camper and not her sire come to kick his ass.
Shadow’s hands fist his shirt and she has to be aware of his erection and every other part of his body holding her down. Her pounding heart and
wide eyes say she was completely in to him when the boat fell.
Then she laughs as Talon lets his head fall to hers, close to the warmth of fading fright on her cheeks.
“I planned that,” he jokes. “To get you in my arms.”
“You didn’t have to,” Shadow says.