“Don’t give up on me.” ~Ozz
Ozz knows he can find happiness with Lily, but loving her could kill them both.
Lily Malory has never known the love of a man because of a vicious rumor. With a knack for relationship advice and a good head for business, she turned Dark Moon Bar and Grill into a success despite the building’s rundown appearance. She’s learned to live with her loneliness.
Ozz Kendell is an executioner for the Shifter Tribunal. He knows the dark-haired beauty running the bar is his mate, but he refuses to claim her. His dark past will ruin her life. When the minions of an evil scientist discover she is a shifter mate, Ozz has no choice but to protect her. Once she is safe, he will find the strength needed to walk away forever—forgoing the happiness he deserves.
Lily forges a tentative friendship with the dangerously sexy Ozz. He comes into her bar every week like clockwork. She discovers shapeshifters exist and her world changes. Now she must depend on Ozz to save her from a threat she doesn’t understand. A threat that could destroy the one man she could love.
Secret Blood, Book 4
Ozz palmed the steering wheel of his Ford Raptor pickup into the parking lot of Dark Forest’s diner. The damn town conjured too many images of Little Red Riding Hood for his liking. A werewolf should stay clear of a place like this, but he’d promised Samantha he’d check on her father’s bar. He pulled into a parking space and cut the engine. If she wasn’t his best friend’s mate, he’d have told her an unequivocal no. He stepped out of the truck and slammed the door.
The damn woman managing Dark Moon wouldn’t meet him at the bar. Not that he could blame her. No one in their right mind would meet him without witnesses. He didn’t like humans. Being in this clueless, backward town made his skin itch. He swallowed back his irritation and headed for the door. He stopped long enough to hold the door for a couple of blue-haired old women chattering about their grandbabies and then went into the diner.
Four men with flannel shirts and baseball caps sat at the counter eating their daily fix of grease. A few couples shared breakfast, and a woman resembling Lucy Lawless in her younger years flirted with a well-muscled farmhand. Ozz could tell by the faint odor of cow manure wafting through the diner. A group of women sat at the corner booth laughing loudly at some joke only they understood. He did his best to ignore them as he scanned the room for a single woman but found none. He sauntered up to the counter. “Is a Lillian Mallory here?”
Every head in the joint turned.
Ozz suppressed the urge to growl. “What’s wrong with her?”
The waitress standing behind the counter served a plate of toast to the man in front of her. “Nothing. It’s not usual for anyone to look for Lily unless they are…well, you know.”
“I don’t know,” Ozz said through his teeth. If this Lily woman was managing Leon’s bar and there was a problem with her, he needed to know now so he could fix the problem and get the hell out of this cheesy town. “Please inform me.”
The waitress busied herself filling coffee for the man at the end of the counter.
The Lucy Lawless-look-a-like cleared her throat and stood. She slinked over to him and touched his biceps. “Sex. Miss Mallory likes to make sure the boys in this town don’t have cold beds.”
He lifted a brow. This woman, whoever she was, had no less than three male scents coming from her enticing body. He removed her hand from his person. “And?”
The woman scowled at him. “She doesn’t usually meet her bed partners here.”
“We have business. She’s supposed to be here.” His phone chirped, letting him know he had a text message. He pulled out his phone, turned his back to the raven-haired woman, and glanced down at his phone.
Running Late. Be there in five. Sorry.
“Never mind. She’s on her way.” Ozz inched away from the raven-haired woman, who was eyeing him up as if he was a slab of beef. Not that he wouldn’t go for a free romp in the sack, but the woman wore a ring. He didn’t do other men’s women, no matter how willing they were.
“I’m Dolly,” the raven-haired woman said. “Why don’t we get to know each other while you wait for her?”
“No thank you,” Ozz said.
The waitress moved in front of him. “Have a seat and I’ll get you a cup of coffee.”
“I don’t drink coffee, but thank you,” he said. “And I’ll wait for her to get here right where I’m at.”
“Suit yourself. I’m Patty. Give a holler if you need anything.” She moved away to grab two plates from the window separating the dining room and the kitchen.
Dolly took a seat next to where Ozz stood.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” Her voice dropped into a suggestive husk. “Our town is a great place to visit if you know a local who can show you around.”
Ozz gritted his teeth together. “Look, lady, I’d love to bang you, but I am here for business.”
She folded her arms over her barely covered chest. “You don’t have to be an asshole.”
“But I am an asshole.”
The door swung open. A gust of wind brought a heavenly aroma right to Ozz’s nose. He turned, stumbled over his own feet, and went down. Quick reflexes saved his nose from smashing on the tile floor.
A woman with rich chocolate-colored hair dropped the files she was holding and rushed forward. She crouched next to him. “Oh my, are you okay?”
He shoved himself up on all fours and looked up at the most beautiful feminine face he’d ever seen. Was that his nose talking, or something else? He grumbled because of his sudden hard-on and sat back on his heels. Big, soft brown eyes stared at him. She poised to touch his shoulder.
“Do you need help?” she asked.
“I’m good.” Holy fuck. She was a mate. His mate, judging by his reaction to her. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What in hell was he supposed to do with this? He leaned forward and sniffed her. Funny, for a woman with a reputation for picking up men, she didn’t have the scent of one on her.
She cleared her throat. “Did you hit your head?”
He snorted and shuffled forward to gather her papers. After quickly shoving them into the file folder, he handed it to her. “You must be Lillian.”
Her eyes widened. “You’re Osborn Kendell.”
He stood and offered her a hand. “I am.”
She curled her dainty pink-tipped digits around his.
He helped her to her feet and swung his head to find the waitress. “I need a table for two.”
Patty bit back a smile. “Sure, the one in the back is open.” She tipped her head to Lily. “I’ll get your usual, hon. Is that all right?”
Ozz couldn’t take his gaze off her. The woman was more sinful than a Victoria Secret’s model in transparent underwear and curvier. She was classic hourglass perfection. He ran his tongue over his canines to make sure he wasn’t sporting fangs. Dark hair fell in a cascade of curls down her shoulders and over her breasts. Damn did he have a wicked need to mark her, to claim her as his mate for the rest of his two-hundred-year lifespan.
“Are we going to sit?”
He blinked at her, and then growled, aware he still held her hand like an idiot, and he let her go before fleeing for the safety of a table between them. He waited until they were both seated. “You’re aware that Leon is taking an extended leave of absence?”
“Yes.” She opened her file folder. “I’ve gone over the books, and I have some projections for how business will go for the next couple of weeks.”
“He’s not coming back,” Ozz said bluntly. “As long as Dark Moon runs a profit, he’ll keep it open so no one has to lose their job.”
She closed the file folder. “You came here to tell me that?”
“And to check on the physical bar, but since you refused to meet there, we’ll go with Leon’s declaration for now.” Ozz knew he sounded like an asshole, but he couldn’t get the big head to think. Holy hell, he was in a whole heap of trouble, and this woman had no clue of the shit storm she’d walked into. He in no way should ever bind a woman to him, and he was suddenly having visions of white picket fences dancing in his head.
She snorted. “The bar isn’t open this early, and since I don’t know you, I thought erring on the side of caution was better than ending up a statistic.”
Tense muscles in his shoulders relaxed. He couldn’t fault her for not being an idiot. “You’re right to be wary of me.”
A smirk curved her sensual lips. “I think you’re as nervous as I am.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said before he could stop himself. He growled.
She sat back as her delicate brow furrowed. “Anyway, Dark Moon opens at eleven for lunch. If you’d like to see the bar then, I’d be happy to give you a tour.”
Aww hell. She worked in a bar. He’d never get any rest knowing that. Not that she didn’t have a right to work wherever she wanted, but he knew men like him frequented bars. Alcohol showed a man’s stupid better than any IQ test invented. “You have a plan to deal with assholes?”
Confusion registered on her angelic face. “Yes.”
He rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. There had to be some way to make sure she had proper security implemented without becoming too much of a dick. He grinned. “How does this sound: I’ll make a visit on your next scheduled shift to check things out for myself.”
“Okay,” she said with a laugh. “I get it. The man with the money wants someone to do an inspection. You’re not going to offend me.”
“You just met me. Give it time, princess.” He always used the endearment when he was purposefully trying to put distance between himself and a woman.
She laughed softly. “All right, prince. My shift starts at six tonight.”
His jaw worked. The night shift? The universe was conspiring against him. He was aware the overprotective gene in his werewolf DNA only triggered because his nose thought she belonged to him, but he refused to leave town until he was satisfied Lillian could handle a bunch of drunken idiots on her own after dark.
Six Months Later
Like clockwork, every Saturday for the last six months at the same exact time, Ozz was waiting by the door when Lily pulled into the parking lot of Dark Moon Bar and Grill. She enjoyed the nights he came into the bar. His presence seemed to settle everyone. No one started arguments or brawls on the nights he was there. Not that she had a huge problem with that, but she was good at keeping the statistics of the bar. Nothing bad happened, and no unsavory elements came in on her most lucrative night of the week.
She got out of the car and shivered. Spring kept threatening to come, but March was always hit and miss for warm weather. She rushed to the door.
Ozz devastated in his sexiness. He wore his hair in a close-cropped, spiky military style. His face was both rugged and beautiful. His eyes were dark as obsidian, but they always held fire. The corded muscles of his arms were showcased by the tight black metal band shirts he wore. Dear God, she could see the definition of his abs and chest through the jersey material. He cocked his head and gave that wolfish grin he always did the moment his gaze met hers after not seeing each other for a week.
“Here for your weekly inspection?”
“Always,” he said as he opened the door for her. “Any problems this week I need to worry about?”
She shook her head as she walked through the building to the small office by the kitchen. “The small town rumor mill is working full force. Apparently everyone thinks you’re a serious out of town…” She paused, not sure how to say this to him. “Um, well.”
He did that growling thing he did sometimes that sounded suspiciously like a wild animal. “Client.”
“Kind of, but for free,” she said as she dropped her coat on the back of the office chair and set her purse under the desk. “I am not sure what kind of relationship they think we have exactly, but they think you’re scarier than Aiden when he’s pissed.” Aiden was a friend, and the man who’d suggested she manage the bar.
Ozz leaned against the doorjamb. “Then not everyone in this town is a complete idiot. Aiden is child’s play when compared to me.”
She wasn’t sure about that. There were wild rumors of Aiden being a werewolf, and there were several suspicious deaths linked to him, but unsubstantiated. A few years ago a man was killed, and a woman tortured by a man working for a logging company. The logger had been killed by what the sheriff’s department insisted was a wolf reintroduced into the area. Lily didn’t know what to believe. She sat, and switched on the computer.
She looked over her shoulder at Ozz. He wasn’t scary. Not to her. “I think you like people to be intimidated by you.”
He shrugged. “Depends on the person. You’re not intimidated.”
She grinned. “You’re a big softy and don’t want anyone to know it.”
He scowled. “Don’t let that go to your head. I am dangerous and an asshole.” He pushed off the doorframe and left her sitting in the office alone.
She turned back to the computer screen. He kept saying those things without any proof to back him up. The scariest thing she’d ever seen him do was toss both of the Bailey twins out the first night he came to inspect the bar when they’d started a fight because they didn’t agree with a call a football referee made on the television. He was going to have to do much better than that to make her judge him the terror he thought he was.
Lily quickly checked her inventory list and updated the order she would make on Monday, and then made a round through the bar to check on customers before going into the kitchen. Ozz’s dinner was ready to go out to him. He ordered the same thing every time. Rare Rib-eye steak with cubed potatoes, hold the salad. She picked up the plate and headed back out to the barroom. She went behind the counter and set his dinner down in front of him and grabbed the one bottle of beer he’d have for the night. She handed it to him.
“You’re predictable,” she said. “That’s not a dangerous quality.”
He glared at the food in front of him. “Maybe not, but your cook needs to learn how to make a proper steak. A dash of salt would do wonders.”
Lily handed him the salt shaker.
Their fingers grazed.
Ozz snatched his hand back and his gaze locked on hers. “Trust me. I’m not a man you want to get tied up with.”
Lily leaned over the bar and whispered, “If I ever found myself tied up, you’re exactly the man I’d want with me.”
He turned his head, and their noses brushed.
Lily jerked back. She would love to explore a relationship with Ozz, but the town already thought they were having sex. She didn’t need to deal with male jealousy every time someone thought she was sleeping with a different man.
Ozz studied her. “I’ll concede the point. I’m still not good for you.”
“I didn’t say that you were.” She winked. “Enjoy. I’ll check on you in a few.”
He grunted, and then focused on his dinner.
“Lily!” Burk, who’d taken over Clyde’s Auto Body, shouted as he entered the bar. “I need you right now!”
He didn’t come into the bar often, and when he did, it was usually to watch NASCAR. She went over to him. “What’s going on?”
He pulled her to the side, lowered his head. “I’m having an issue with Cassidy.”
And here was the exact reason she loved working in a bar. Everyone came to her for advice. “It’s going to cost you a beer.”
He nodded. “Awesome. Please. I don’t know why she’s pissed at me and she’s threatening to leave.”
Lily led him to the bar, waited for his order, and then got him his beer. She waited until he drank half of it. “What did you do?”
He stared at the bottle as he passed it between his oil-stained hands. “It’s March. The snow’s not letting up, and the roads have been icy. I’ve ended up staying at the shop three times this week trying to get people their cars back, and she thinks I’m having an affair.”
Ozz leaned over. “He’s not.”
Lily snorted and turned her attention back to Burk. “First, you need to take some time off. Second, you need to be at home instead of here.”
His jaw flexed. “She kicked me out until I can tell her the truth. I am telling her the goddamned truth.”
“Big deep breath,” Lily said. “Finish your beer. I’ll be right back.” She hurried off to her office and pulled out the town’s phone book because they still had those in Dark Forest. She flipped through the pages and found Cassidy’s number. She was probably the last person Cassidy would want to hear from, but if she played this right, she could have this problem fixed before closing time. She had a knack for knowing when people were telling the truth. She didn’t need Ozz’s confirmation to believe Burk.
“Hello,” Cassidy said on the second ring.
“Hi, this is Lily over at Dark Moon. I have Burk crying into his beer insisting you kicked him out for having an affair.”
There was a long pause, and then Cassidy let out a harsh sigh. “I don’t actually think he had an affair, at least not in the usual sense. Those cars have been more important than me all damn winter and I refuse to keep going to bed alone while a man is supposed to be living in this house.”
“Got it,” Lily said. “But I am going to need for you to be honest with him when I send him home.”
“You’re not going to try to sleep with him, are you?”
Lily winced at the accusation. “No. You know I don’t sleep with men while at work.” Which was true, according to the rumors. She didn’t sleep with men at all, but no one would believe that.
“All right. Have someone drive him if he drinks too much.”
“Will do,” Lily said. “And Cassidy, the renovation of your hair salon is fantastic.” Lily hung up the phone before the other woman could reply. Everyone in town knew Cassidy’s hair salon wasn’t making enough money for all the work that had been done in the last month. Burk paid for it, and while Lily wasn’t about to tell the other woman how to feel, she did need to be reminded that when she expected her husband’s business to keep her afloat, the man was going to have to put in more hours.
She returned to Burk. “Here is what you’re going to do. You’re going to schedule yourself two days off.” She produced a gift certificate. “Bring her here one night on me, and spend some time with her. Dance with her, and show her she’s still special. She misses you, and no matter how much women like what a man’s money can buy, we like that man in our lives to actually be in our life.”
His thick brows furrowed, and he let out a huff. “Are you sure that’s going to work?”
“Absolutely,” Lily said. “Stay here for a while and soak up the heat while she cools off some. Then go home and tell her you love her and schedule your time to coincide with hers.”
Burk took a pull of his beer. “Thanks, Lily.”
She gave a warm smile. “No problem.”
She retreated to her office. Helping repair damaged relationships was what she did best, but it always hurt a little when she wasn’t able to have one of her own because of the rumors about her, and the way small towns polarized people.
The magic is in their DNA.
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