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Outfoxing Mysta (MFM)

Flushed and Fevered

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: SCORCHING
Word Count: 49,896
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ePub
Mobi

Halloween night, a game of truth or dare, and the one man she can't have…

With Halloween night to herself, all Mysta wanted was a quiet evening in the library. Tucked away behind the stacks of books, she tries to ignore her attraction to the man she had to leave behind to save her family—fox shifter and manager of the library, the deliciously addicting Viktor—her tattooed, fantasy man. It's clear Viktor wants her too, and neither his flirting nor the distracting shimmer of desire in his eyes make him easy to ignore. And with Viktor's best friend egging them on, Mysta knows she's in deep trouble…

So when the boys suggest a game of truth or dare to pass the time, and then up the ante by adding a roll of the dice, Mysta can't bring herself to refuse. Each roll exposes them in more ways than one—more hot, sexy, delicious ways—but uncomfortable truths, and long-buried desires, are revealed. Viktor has always wondered why his mate, Mysta, disappeared, and now he's going to find out. But can he outfox the woman who's an expert at slithering away?

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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE



Samhain in full effect. Mysta dodged a group of people tossing tissue paper up and onto trees. An arc of white fluttered through the sky, catching on a branch. The trail spilled down to the ground, twisting and turning in a stray breeze. Loose magic and cool air raised goose bumps on her skin. Her heartbeat stuttered. Her snake cringed and hissed at every brief interaction with the public. Too many people around, too much noise, too much magic.

She focused on the brick and mortar library in the distance. The tall, gold lettering was her beacon of calm. People staggered around on the sidewalks and in the streets, blocking traffic, hooting and hollering and holding up their drinks, toasting the night. A few she knew called out to her. She gave a halfhearted wave and sped up to get away from them. The temptation to turn and run back to the office overwhelmed her.

She shook her head and pressed on. Duty came before fear. Bridget needed her to research hobgoblins, and this was the only time she had over the next week or so. She couldn’t find any peace at home, not with Vivi, her friend and co-worker Sera’s half-sister, hiding at her place. Any minute Vivi’s mother Francie could burst in. Mysta wanted to stave off any black leopard drama—especially in her home—for as long as possible. And especially with rumors of issues within the Leap—what black leopard shifters called themselves when together—being whispered about. So the library it was.

She rushed up the stone steps, dodging a few children toting pumpkin carries and dressed in stereotypical witch costumes, warts, pointy hats and all, pulled open one of the double doors and entered only to stop short.

Sitting at the front desk, feet up on the countertop and reading a book was Viktor.

Seeing his tousled blond hair, tight T-shirt, and silver-rimmed glasses made her breath halt in her chest. The moment broke apart. Old fear, anger, and confusion washed through her. Why was he here?

She gritted her teeth and shook her head. She couldn’t get distracted by past emotions. Mysta inhaled the perfume of ink, vellum, wood, incense, and a hint of spice from the magic that floated around the library, using it to ground her. She couldn’t focus on Viktor.

As if sensing her gaze, he lifted his chin. A smile curved his lips. He lifted his hand.

She shook her head. She wasn’t going to get sucked into a conversation. She rushed past him and aimed for the section dealing with hobgoblins.

She grabbed volumes specific to banishing or vanquishing them, then settled down at a table in the back, far away from the front desk and Viktor. She spread out her study materials, notebooks, and pencils and got to work.

Or at least she tried to. It was no use. Viktor’s name whispered through her mind. The ghost of his cologne swirled around her reminding of her what she’d left behind. Pain splintered along her fingers as the shift tried to find a foothold. Tears blurred her vision. She blinked the moisture away. No, no, no, this couldn’t happen here.

Mysta stood up and walked away from the study area. The farther she got from the table and the closer she came to the front desk, the more her symptoms ticked up. An ache blossomed in the pit of her stomach. Her magic came alive. The wood of the shelves responded, swaying toward her. Her heart raced, and sweat beaded along her brow. She needed to make this stop right now.

She halted, closed her eyes, and began going through the warrior yoga positions to gain some semblance of control. Magic slithered down her arms and across her shoulders, ruffling her shirt over her breasts, and brushed against her stomach. Calm settled over her as she went through the asanas. She could feel the solidity of the wooden floor rising up through her feet and legs and deep into the core of her being. She let her magic flow out, drawing in what moisture and warmth there was in the air. Fire flared in the pit of her stomach and serenity filled her as she reached out to the elements that gave her strength and aided her magic.

The change pulled back. Her fingers returned to normal. Becoming a snake in a public research library would not endear her to Shevon, the head librarian, even though Shevon wasn’t on duty.

“Viktor,” her snake whispered. The sound sent a wave of calm through her, followed by a burst of need. She ground her teeth against the desire. Stop it, she ordered herself. She took in some deep breaths, and once her calm was reestablished, she slinked through the aisles keeping watch for both Viktor and any books she might need for further study. Her boots echoed in the muted atmosphere.

Chuckles drew her attention to a passageway, which led to the defensive magic section. She peeked into the corridor and found a group of three preteens circled around a snail. Glyphs ringed the boundary, along with tea candles. One of the boys waved a starter wand—a short wand that young witches and warlocks used to practice with—at the gastropod, causing it to float in the air, rotate, and jump all while in the confines of the circle. Droplets of goo fell to the floor.

Mysta’s stomach threatened to rebel. She tamped the urge to vomit down.

“Come on, make it jump higher,” one of the immature warlocks urged. His voice cracked on the last word. Acne scars marked his oily face. A frizzy bowl cut framed his pointed features making his large nose more noticeable.

“Dude, make it secrete more goo. If this is gonna be defensive it needs to be able to give off more crap,” another one whined.

She swallowed down more of her nausea. The young warlocks’ words sank in. Defensive? A snail? Oh, no, it wouldn’t work if they didn’t transfigure the slug they were trying to use. They needed to start with the softer parts. Mysta wanted to give them some pointers. She stepped forward, ready to instruct them on how to avoid disaster, when a finger tapped her shoulder.

Viktor.

He smirked at her, his jade-green eyes glimmering. Memories of all the times in the past when she’d caught him staring at her while she’d been studying flooded her brain.

What are they doing? he mouthed. His stare raked her from head to toe, lingering on her lips.

For a moment she was struck by how pink his mouth looked. The tip of his tongue slipped out, wetting the plump flesh, causing it to glisten. Drawing her to kiss him. Her mouth warmed at the notion of tasting his lips once more. Stop that, she ordered herself. She latched on to his question.

“Defensive magic,” she whispered.

“With a slug?” Revulsion filled every line of his face. He pushed his silver-rimmed glasses up on his nose.

Her brain went into geek mode, and she acted on autopilot, explaining the situation in a low voice. “It can be done with the right spell, and if they’re up on their transfiguring information. But if they screw up we’ll be wiping snail guts off of us and everywhere, and then Shevon will flail them alive.” She peeked back at the trio. The slug continued to jump in the air and, horror of horrors, it was growing. It even gave off a weird sulfuric smell. She scrunched up her nose. Another flood of nausea hit her, accompanied by a wave of light-headedness. She swayed on her feet, reaching out to grab hold of a shelf to steady herself.

“This needs to stop.” Viktor brushed by her and raised his voice, addressing the boys. “Okay, guys, enough.”

The kids stilled, eyes wide. Two of the boys scooted away from their grotesque experiment to opposite sides of the area. The third remained where he was, eyes narrowed at Viktor. “We have every right. Shevon is my aunt. I could get you fired.” His high, snotty voice grated on Mysta’s nerves.

Viktor pulled out a few paper towels from his back pocket. “I doubt Shevon will do any such thing. Here, use this to wipe up the goo with this and get out. I won’t risk the library going up in flames or something worse happening just so you can get better at defensive magic. Now leave, and I won’t tell your aunt you almost got snail guts on her precious tomes.” He lifted a hand. A spark of energy appeared and grew in size, forming into a ball of light. He nodded toward the door.

The two boys who had backed away crashed into each other hastening for the exit. “Come on!” one shouted. “He’s gonna try and fry us.”

The third boy bent down, grabbed the snail, and followed his friends. In his rush to leave, he smudged the salt forming the circle, creating an opening. The buildup of magic oozed out. The sulfuric smell increased. A ripple of power lashed out at Mysta. She hissed as her snake rose to flick it off.

Great. She closed her eyes and drew on her power to tamp down the loose magic before it caused any trouble. She imagined her power as a solid plane of thick wood and pressed it into the drifting tendrils of the spell, pushing the magic down into the floor, where the golden oak boards absorbed the power. The magic weakened until she could feel only a faint trace of energy.

“Ugh. Shevon’s going to kill that kid. I’ll clean up here. You get back to studying.” Viktor crouched down. His Henley rose up to reveal a sliver of deep golden skin and a hint of a tattoo that disappeared under the cream-colored fabric.

The sight stopped her short. Questions swirled around her brain. When had he… How long had…?

Her thoughts scattered. Not her business.

“Okay. Thanks.” She turned on her heel and rushed to an area of seclusion: her table. Once among the familiarity and safety of her possessions, her calm returned to her.

She buried herself in the written word, trying to ignore images of peeling off Viktor’s shirt to get a better look at the ink work and maybe to leave love bites all over his back. It didn’t work. She read the same paragraph several times but didn’t understand a word. Transferring her attention to another book only made the words blur together. Frustrated, she got up and headed for the Mischievous Creatures section.

Lights flashed, and overhead she heard the explosions from the fireworks celebrating Samhain. Time was ticking by. She had to find more materials on hobgoblins for the case Bridget was working. So far there wasn’t a lot mentioned in the texts.

She needed to focus. Bridget was depending on her to come back with this information. She bent over the page and finally managed to lose herself in the paragraphs. Everything else faded away. Only the words mattered to her right now.

“Do you need anything? Coffee, cocoa, water?” Viktor’s rich voice drifted to her, jolting her out of her musings.

The low tenor sent shivers through her. Her heart ticked up, and her thoughts scattered. Remnants of her arousal flared to life, pushing their way to the forefront and forestalling any annoyance at being interrupted. Her skin tingled, and her body warmed. Her heart beat a rapid tattoo against her rib cage. Liquid heat filled her sex.

She looked around and spotted him in a corridor nearest to her, leaning against a shelf as casual as you please, legs crossed at the ankle and arms folded over his chest. His shirt stretched over the hard wall of his pecs and muscular biceps.

“You know I don’t drink or eat anything while I’m researching or studying.” She tried to sound disgruntled. The words came out softer, breathier than she wanted. She checked her watch. She’d been reading for an hour.

He didn’t move toward her. “Did you have dinner? I have some leftovers from The Java Demon Café. Double bacon cheeseburger with mushrooms, your favorite. No fries though. I can pop it into the mini convection oven in the employee lounge.”

Her traitorous stomach grumbled. “Viktor.”

“I remember a time when you called me Vik and you were happy to see me. I also remember all those moments when you cried out my name when you came.” His neutral, careful tone belied the dark fire and need in his eyes.

An ache spread through her heart. Old, scabbed wounds ripped open and created runnels of blood in her soul. “Please, don’t remind me.”

“I’ve been in town for a year, Mys. I don’t need to say something to remind you. My presence should be enough.” He shoved his worn, callused, and scarred hands into the pockets of the tightest jeans she’d ever seen. The denim stretched over a noticeable ridge tenting the fabric.

She swallowed and tried to ignore the fission of heat that danced along her spine. A memory surfaced of Viktor above her, pushing his hips forward, his cock sinking in so slowly she wanted to scream and demand he move faster. She’d struggled against the leather straps that held her to bed and limited her ability to drive down on him and take him deeper.

“Mys? Your body temperature spiked.” He crossed his arms over his chest again.

Rather than stare into his eye, she focused on the patch of skin revealed by the open top button at the hollow of this throat. A hint of green ink peeked out at her. Just how far did it go down?

She swallowed and pushed aside her musings.

“Wondering about this?” He tugged down his collar a bit to show off more of the hidden image.

She gritted her teeth, hating he could read her so well. “Just remembering how it used to be and how much you’ve changed.”

He pushed up his glasses with his middle finger. “Memories can be a dangerous thing.”

The heaviness in his soft voice hit her in the gut. She waited for him to push her and bring up something else from their past.

“Look, you left without a warning. I just want to know why…”

Mysta lifted her chin. “We had an agreement. No questions, no explanations needed, and no strings. We could walk away from each other any time.” Could a person break a deal if it was a year later?

Besides what was she going to say? Fear of marriage, of commitment? The words rolled around her head. A lump formed in her throat. She tried to swallow around it. Energy coursed through her legs demanding she get up and run, but there was no way she’d get far enough away from him. Not even Pluto or another galaxy would be far enough.

Despite the rapid thud of her heart, she longed to touch his hair. The last time she’d seen him it had been clipped in a buzz cut, so close that the skin of his scalp showed through the blond fuzz. She pushed away those memories to focus on him here in the present. Despite his relaxed attitude, tension filled every line of his body as if he was ready to spring at her slightest movement. Maybe to stop her from running again or to go to her and kiss her senseless. She didn’t know.

Viktor moved with a slow gait, the deliberate steps of a predator coming toward prey. He stopped at the table’s edge and leaned down and brought his face so close his nose almost touched hers.

“You don’t know what I want to hear, and besides I made the rules. I can break them.” The humidity of his breath kissed her lips. She smelled the sweetness of mint and a hint of cinnamon. Her flesh warmed. She almost met him, almost kissed him, almost. Goddess, she wanted to touch him, to bury her hands in his longer hair, kiss him senseless, taste him, feel all his strength and solidity against her, take off his glasses and see if the heat was real and she wasn’t imagining it.

His eyelashes fluttered, and his eyelids slid down, but she didn’t miss the desire that burned in their peridot depths. A moan slipped out of her. He inhaled. His nostrils flared, and his warm breath caressed her face.

His rich, shadowed scent swirled around her. In his cologne was leather, the darkness of the forest, the richness of earth, a hint of danger, a tang of mystery, and just a bit of incense. Her tongue flicked out and touched his bottom lip. He groaned.

She wanted to feel the sound rumble deep inside of her while he kissed her, the vibrations beating against her mouth as his tongue dove deeper. Sweat slipped down from her temple to trace along her chin as all thoughts of studying, learning more, and research evaporated.

Viktor pulled back and smirked. “Don’t start none, and you won’t get some,” he drawled. A hint of that Southern accent she had always loved rolled over her.

She swore and yanked back. “I wasn’t— I didn’t— Just leave me alone.” The words rushed out, holding no depth, just desperation.

“Can’t. You’re my mate. Whether you believe it or not, sugar, is up to you, but, I just can’t leave you alone, as you say. And I won’t. I’m going to get answers, honey, one way or another.” He turned on his heel and strode down a darkened aisle. His cowboy-boot heels thudded against the aged floor echoing the rhythm of her heart.

“Damn him.” The words came out as a whisper, but it might as well have been a shout in the quiet. In the distance she heard a low chuckle. She swore and rolled her head and tensed her arms and fisted her hands allowing the stress to drain away. Something caught her preternatural senses.

She lifted up her head and blinked. Her senses extended outward. Viktor was at the front desk. The kids had gone, and something moved in the inky blackness of the forbidden sections of the library. It reached out for her and something slammed against her mental shields. She jerked her attention back and frowned. What was it?

She shook her head. She couldn’t focus on that now. She bowed her head and immersed herself in the books but heard Viktor’s footsteps around her. He didn’t say anything, just walked around and left.

A dark bitter sweetness perfumed the air. Her taste buds tingled, and her mouth began to water as slow recognition dawned on her. Chocolate. Creamy, rich, sinful dark chocolate. She glanced all around until her gaze snagged down on the floor. Chocolate coins wrapped in gold, bronze, and silver foil along with tea candles formed a line from where she sat toward the front. The words follow me were spelled out a foot from her chair. What the hell?

Her stomach growled. She needed a break. Tension sang through her neck and shoulders, and her butt hurt from sitting on a hard chair for the last hour and half.

“Fine, I’ll take a break and eat and after that I go back to the books.” She got up and collected the candy, following the trail.

She arrived at the front desk to find the countertop covered in various sized candles casting golden pools of light, melting the darkness in the empty aisles away and brightening the area. A plate of two double bacon cheeseburgers with mushrooms sat next to two glasses of wine.

Viktor leaned his elbows on the countertop, a grin on his face. Mischief glittered in his eyes. “Welcome.” He nodded next to him.

He came around the table. His facial expression was inscrutable. Tension ran over his body emanating in waves. He wasn’t shielding himself from her. What was going on with him? She wanted to walk over to him, wrap her arms around him, and hold him tight and at the same time run the other way. The distance between them seemed uncrossable. She didn’t have the right to hold him. Someone else had the job, right? Guy as gorgeous as him couldn’t be single, right?

Her heart lurched, and her stomach roiled. It wasn’t her business, she told herself. It didn’t matter. Besides, she’d left him behind when she moved to Evenfall for her job as Bridget’s familiar.

She glanced down at her feet. The toes of her boots were scuffed and needed some shine. Maybe it was time to get some new ones. She allowed the thoughts to distract her.

“Hey, why don’t you sit down?” Viktor moved closer to her and held out his hand.

She found the gumption to move. She closed the distance and settled down on a stool, close to him. He stepped up to her and grinned.

Viktor reached out and cupped her face. For a moment she thought he was going to kiss her. Hope blossomed inside of her. The warmth of his touch spread, and her heart tripped over itself. She inhaled. Her skin tingled where he touched her. The dull sound of fireworks exploding overhead could be heard, but for the life of her she couldn’t turn her gaze toward the skylight to see what color combinations the witches in charge had come up with. Her world had narrowed down to the light green of his eyes. This close she could see his pale eyelashes, the freckles across the bridge of his nose, the way his delicate nose upturned at the tip, and the smile curled on his light pink lips.

“Got your favorite wine,” he whispered. “And more chocolate. You ready to eat?” He gave her nose a quick peck and backed away. “Come on, who’s it going to hurt to share a meal with me?”

Disappointment filled her at such a simple touch. Damn it. How could she resist him?

Fireworks rocked the building. She pulled her attention away from him, afraid to drown in those eyes once more and darted a look at the skylight that gave a glimpse of the night sky. Colors of green, blue, yellow, orange, and pink formed flowers against the inky black, blotting out stars and moon. Mysta tilted her head back and watched as someone in stereotypical witch garb on a broomstick streaked across the sky. She groaned. Of course a few of the local covens would get drunk and decide to use flying spells. They were probably buzzed with all the free magic floating around.

“Would your Bridget be so daring?” Viktor asked. Humor laced his voice.

“No. She hates heights, and none of us would be willing to get on a broomstick. Not much keeping you from falling off and the distance between the ground and sky. Well…” She shuddered. “Besides there are no spells to buckle you to the broom. There’s also the question of why do it.” Not enough money, boots, chocolate, or jewelry could convince her it would be worth it.

“I don’t know, for the adventure?” Amusement tinged his voice.

“Uuuuh, no. This is where we differ. You enjoy skydiving and bungee jumping. I prefer my feet planted on terra firma. Planes, trains, and cars are fine ways to travel.” A memory of his old car surfaced, followed by a brush of heat at memories of all the kisses and heavy petting they did in the backseat. She smiled. “Remember the blue devil?”

Viktor’s face brightened, and his eyes glinted with joy. “How could I forget? Gorgeous, restored Mustang convertible.”

“Nancy Drew’s car.” She couldn’t resist needling him.

Viktor pointed his index finger at her, a serious expression on his face. His eyes sparked with irritation. “Not Nancy Drew’s car. A classic.”

“It was blue—”

“Not Nancy Drew’s car.”

“It was a Mustang.”

“Not—”

“It was made by Ford.” She smiled, delight drowning out the slight desire in her body.

“Look, Nancy just has good taste, that’s all.” He shook his head. The thick, blond waves of his hair fell forward, obscuring one eye. He reached up and pushed it back.

She moved closer to him. It was too much fun to tease him, so much that she could temporarily forget her desire and her need for distance. “Why can’t you just admit you have a car in common with Nancy Drew?”

He huffed out a breath. “Because you keep taking the piss out the blue devil. And we don’t share a car. She’s a fictional character.”

“And because you can’t stand that I called your precious car a girlie car.”

He shook his head. “Do I make fun of your Aston obsession?”

“It’s different. It’s James Bond’s car. It’s cool,” she pointed out.

“And Nancy Drew’s car isn’t?”

“Well it doesn’t have an ejector seat or shoot missiles from the headlights. It’s nice, but it’s not an Aston.” Just thinking about the vehicle sent a shiver of pleasure up her spine.

Viktor rolled his eyes. “You’re a car snob, is what you are.” He headed around the counter.

“And? A girl’s gotta have standards.”

“Right, so where were your standards when your parents got you the Bug?” He bent down and brought up a fat stack of napkins.

“Well it was kind of cute…” She was lying. It had been a hideous rust bucket, but it was her duty to defend it since it was her first car and all her family could afford at the time.

“It’s was bright yellow.” He enunciated his words slowly.

“Okay, fine. It was a piece of crap and needed to be jumped at least three times a week just to get it going, and one windshield wiper didn’t work no matter what you did to it, and it always smelled of curry even though the old owner hated the stuff, but still…it was…cute. It had a happy face sticker we could never get off.” She shrugged. “And who wouldn’t want a smiley face on their car?”

“Ha! Just as stubborn as usual.” He faced her now. “So dinner, ready for it?”

No, but she didn’t say it aloud. Her stomach rumbled. She still hadn’t found anything on hobgoblins for Bridget, and it looked like this would be a long night. Viktor wouldn’t leave her alone so long as she stayed here to research. She might as well play nice. Maybe then he’d leave her be.

“Sure, why not.” She joined him at the table and sat down on a stool. What harm could eating with him do?

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