Mitchell Wolf sat up straight in the swivel leather chair inside his rundown office at Wolf Investigations and gazed at the photograph that Libby Sinclair had sent him. A summons from the society matron wasn't something a PI who wasn't quite human could ignore. She wanted him to go undercover and protect her granddaughter, Gina, not that he thought the girl actually needed protecting.
The Sinclair family matriarch couldn't possibly know about the debt his pack owed her clan, so why seek him out? Why not go to one of the high priced, high profile firms like Garret Lamont's? And she sure as hell couldn't be aware of his predicament; the key to his survival was tied to Xanadu, her castle on the hill.
Even now, he could feel the weakness creeping over him, the difficulty changing shape. He'd thought the family curse was just an alpha male's raving when his grandsire had told it to him, but when the stain appeared on his feet two weeks ago, he'd known it was all too true. If he didn't find the key to the Lupine Treasure in two weeks time, a month from the time the stain appeared, he'd permanently turn back into a wolf and die.
He'd attempted to buy the estate through a third party, planning to tear the place apart stone by stone until he found salvation, only to be rebuffed. Just a few days ago, his broker told him there was renewed interest in selling, but wanted to keep it very hush-hush. And now, Libby Sinclair had sent for him. It seemed like the answer to a prayer, but he didn't trust his luck. To have the solution handed to him in such a neat, if convoluted, package, made him wary. Suspicion was healthy; it kept his pack alive through the centuries.
The image smiling back at him from the photo was electric. The full length photo of Gina Sinclair, taken at the pool, left little to the imagination. Twenty-eight years old with long red hair and sparkling green eyes that tilted up at the ends, she was a natural beauty. Her eyes held a teasing glint that stirred his animal senses, along with his libido, but he ruthlessly tamped the sensation down.
He'd gone too damned long without mating, making him vulnerable to a bodacious pair of tits. She was human, not his for the taking, he had to remind himself of that pertinent fact. Did Libby Sinclair have any notion of the beast she was unleashing with her request? No matter, he had to keep his head on straight, and his dick in his pants, it was the only way for him to survive.
* * * *
Gina Sinclair cursed her poor time management skills as she tore down the lane on the back of her red custom made Harley toward Xanadu, her grandmother's mansion. She took her family obligations seriously and she was late for a meeting with Granny's business manager, Harold Baker. She wrinkled her nose as she thought of him, finding his sudden urgency suspicious. All his moves lately had one aim, stick Grandmother in a nursing home and sell the estate. He wasn't fooling her one bit with his supposed concern over Gram's health in the somewhat drafty old manor house.
She was concerned too, but not enough to push Gram out of the castle she'd moved into as a bride. Unfortunately, her Grandmother's brother, Bart, seemed to agree with Harold Baker, so they were at a stalemate. As the three remaining members of the Sinclair dynasty, she thought that she, Gram, and Bart should stick together. Bart however, seemed too self centered to give a damn. She and Gram were made of sterner stuff, but was Gram strong enough to thwart their continued assault on the estate?
She slowed to turn into the gate, the bike bumping over the cobblestone drive, and winced as pain shot through her sprained ankle. It hadn't been back to normal since her fall two weeks ago. She'd tripped, rushing down the path from her cottage to Xanadu, and then there was her wipe out on the bike a few days later when her brakes failed. All in all, she seemed to be getting more accident prone lately.
As she rode through the garden gate, she was sure she heard a wolf whistle. It so startled her, she slowed, and her bike sputtered to a halt as she looked around. No lascivious man was lurking in the vicinity. No hunky gardener, no cute pool boy, just her and the chipmunks. Too bad, it had been six months since her last date, and she couldn't even remember the last time she'd had sex, not that she'd ever found it that satisfying. Men were either after her for her money, or put off by her somewhat unconventional ways. A year ago when Charles Roark, a family attorney and her sometimes beau, broke her heart, she'd concluded that romance wasn't in the cards for her.
Instead of romance, her focus had been totally on her art of late. Still, she could have done with a sexy distraction, she decided, restarting her Harley. She rode up to the house and came to a halt under the portico. Taking off her helmet, she shook out her tangled red hair in a last ditch attempt to look presentable. It was then that she noticed her jeans were splotched with paint. She stifled a groan. Damn, it was too late to change. She'd been in such a rush to get to the art supply store after she realized her paints were ruined, that she hadn't noticed her disarray. How two hundred dollars worth of oils and acrylics wound up being smashed by a packing box she still didn't understand. It didn't make sense but now wasn't the time to fret about it; she had Grandmother's interests to uphold.
With grim focus, she started up the stairs. Having Harold Baker think her an artsy kook was probably to her advantage. That way, he'd underestimate her abilities to stop him. She let herself into the front door and rushed past Grandmother's butler, Frank Sloan, causing the formally clad older man to scuttle out of the way. "They here yet, Frank?"
"They're waiting in the study." He raised a brow making a tsk tsk sound at her, adding, "You'd better slow down, young lady, before you do more damage to that bad ankle of yours."
Nodding to appease his concern, she waited until she was out of his line of sight to sprint down the marble hallway to the study. More unofficial uncle than servant, Frank had been a fixture in her life since her childhood, reading her wonderful fairytales and teaching her to ride a bike when she was five. She'd come here to live after her parents were killed in a plane crash when she was a baby, it had been a loving and happy childhood. She hated to think of the estate being sold to strangers.
The marble hallway she hurtled down gleamed with fresh wax, making for treacherous footing, which she realized too late. As she reached the doorway to the oak paneled study, and tried to slow down, her feet suddenly skidded out from under her. Arms flailing, she let out a cry of embarrassment as she tumbled into the room. Closing her eyes, she braced for impact with the floor.
Instead, someone reached out to pluck her out of midair. Bent backwards and held fast in strong arms, her eyes popped open and she stared breathlessly into a man's warm brown eyes. The stranger's eyes were hypnotic, almost untamed, and she could swear she saw plain unvarnished arousal in them, as he slowly looked her over. He wanted her with a raging passion she'd never experienced. It was a revelation, one that made her heat with embarrassment. More handsome than any man she'd ever seen, she wondered if she was only wishing his attraction as she licked her lips.
As he cradled her, she felt something funny happen to her insides—a melting sensation. Falling into his honey deep gaze, Gina's senses went into full alert. Her nipples tingled, budding as an electric sensation zinged through her, making the spot between her legs grow heavy with arousal. Astounded by her physical reaction, she let out a little gasp of shock.
His hands tightened around her, his mouth tightening into a firm line. Everything else seemed to slip away, Bart mixing himself a cocktail at the bar in the corner while chatting with Grandmother, Harold Baker opening his briefcase on the conference table. After a long moment, she remembered to breathe. Why didn't he say something?
Instead of speaking, he set her, trembling, back on her feet with a slight shake of his head. Feeling quite unsteady, she blushed and looked away, trying to hide her strange reaction. Bart, nattily dressed in a blue three piece suit, gave her a perfunctory nod from the bar. A former B-movie actor, he always did things with a dramatic flourish. Her grandmother's younger brother, they'd both been in the movie business decades ago. While Gram had achieved stardom before marrying and retiring from the profession, Bart worked as a B-movie actor until coming to live with them after Gina's grandfather died. Grandmother had welcomed him with open arms, but Gina had never been able to get close to him. She managed to pull herself together enough to walk over to give him the expected air kiss on the cheek.
"Hello, Uncle Bartholomew."
She frowned, she was hardly a child but she refrained from pointing that out. The stranger's hot gaze was glued to her back, she could feel it burning into her. It made her tingle with sensual awareness. Trying to stifle her lingering primal response, she walked over to greet her grandmother. "Hi, Gram."
"Gina dear, you've been painting."
"I was, until I realized I was out of paint. I've just come back from an art supply run. Sorry I'm late."
"Nonsense, you're just on time, isn't she, Harold?"
"Of course, Libby," he parroted back, shuffling his papers.
Gina turned to look at him hearing the resignation in his voice. Harold Baker was dressed in a three piece suit, but she couldn't help noticing as he sat down that his socks didn't match, one blue and one black. She stifled a smile at the comical sight. It was gratifying to see him brought down a peg, even if he wasn't aware of it. Maybe there was trouble at home if his blue-blooded wife, Carla, had let him out of the house that way.
He'd taken a position at the head of the table, his papers spread out before him. She decided he looked just like the little kingpin he thought he was. He didn't like dealing with her, having her act as a buffer. Tough. Grandmother wasn't ready to be bundled off to a nursing home, or pushed out of the Sinclair Foundation, and any intimation that she was made Gina see red. She knew what lay behind it—money and power. Harold Baker wanted a free hand. Not on her watch, she vowed.
Leaning a bit on her silver tipped ebony cane, her one concession to advancing age, Libby Sinclair moved away from Bart at the bar and walked toward the table. Resplendent in a purple caftan, her silver hair drawn back in an elegant chignon, she retained most of her movie star beauty. High cheekbones, tip tilted eyes, she carried herself with a regal bearing.
Baker hurried to pull out her chair and seat her. "You're looking well, Libby."
Libby smiled as she settled in her chair like a queen ascending her throne. "Thank you, Harold."
Gina couldn't keep her gaze from flicking to the new guy who took a seat at the end of the table. Who was he? One of Baker's hired guns was the logical and heartsick answer, pretty but deadly. Hadn't Baker already had a string of realtors and estate planners in here, what was one more? But this guy was different—she could feel it, even though she couldn't put a name to the sensation he caused inside her. He still hadn't said a word to her, and she was dying to hear his voice—would it be as compelling as the rest of him? He was eyeing them all with a brooding expression, but when he saw her staring at him, he smiled back at her. Dark and mysterious, he was fodder for a girl's fantasies, not that she needed much excuse to go there.
His eyes were the first things that drew her attention, warm and intense, they seemed to see inside her soul. His features were sharp, masculine and extremely attractive. His hair was dark and a bit too long, brushing the collar of his staid business suit. Even so, he didn't remind her of any businessman she'd ever seen. There was something that set him apart from the other men in the room—a fierce toughness that made her blood sizzle. Her gaze swept down to his sensual lips.
What would those firm lips feel like slanted against hers? Against her breasts, and lower? He'd probably give great head. Suddenly his piercing gaze locked with hers, like he knew what she was thinking. There was just the hint of a smile on his sensual mouth. Damn!
She looked away, embarrassed and shocked by her wandering imagination. He was so stiff and formal; he'd probably never given head in his life. Strictly a missionary position kind of guy, a sheep in wolf's clothing. Telling herself anything else was just setting herself up for a fall. She tried to dismiss him as a secretary, and turned to look at Grandmother, who gave her only granddaughter an indulgent smile.
Baker sat down and turned to Libby. "Tell me, who is the young man you brought with you, Libby?"
So Gram had hired him, not Baker, things were suddenly looking up. It put his presence into a whole bright new perspective. Maybe he wasn't one of Baker's hired guns.
Libby tilted her head, giving him a startled look. "If you'll recall our earlier conversation about the importance of doing an inventory for insurance purposes—"
"Of course I remember, Libby, I just thought you'd let me handle it." Baker blinked and looked over at the stranger with an inquisitive glance. "I trust you're qualifications are in order, Mister..."
Gina watched the stranger calmly give Baker a secretive half smile.
"He's Mitch Lamb," Libby cut in, calmly folding her hands, giving Baker her focused attention. "He's from one of the firms you recommended, Lamb Accounting. Do you have a problem with that?"
Baker's face turned red. "No, no, of course not. Mr. Lamb's firm does come with excellent references. We should be able to work well together."
Mitchell Wolf sat back in his chair and wondered again how he'd gotten into this mess. He didn't enjoy playing games, but it was a chance for survival, even if it was a fool's errand. He gave the assembled group what he hoped was a non-feral smile.
Well played, Ms. Sinclair. They never saw it coming. It proved that Libby Sinclair, while suffering the frailties of age, had lost none of her business acumen. She thought that outside forces threatened her estate and her granddaughter, and she'd stop at nothing to protect both. Baker looked confused, and Bart looked bored as he downed his martini.
The granddaughter, Gina, looked troubled. Mitch's hot gaze focused on the rapid pulse thrumming in her tender neck, the perfect fit for a wolf's teeth. He could almost taste her allure from where he sat, floral, feminine, and enticing. More tomboy than siren, she was the type that didn't yet know her female power.
Mitch turned back to Libby, noting a mysterious twinkle in the lady's blue eyes. Was she just enjoying getting the better of Baker, or was she playing them all for fools? As he thought it, he rejected the notion. There was no way she could know him, and if she did, she sure as hell wouldn't have hired him. "I'll need full access to the estate, ma'am. A job this size will take some time. If you could recommend a good hotel nearby..."
"Nonsense, you'll stay on the estate. You can take Eden, it's the guesthouse next to Gina's. She'll be glad to show you around, won't you, dear?"
He heard Gina's gasp. His quick gaze locked on the sway of her breasts under her pink tank top as she sucked in a deep breath. She wasn't wearing a bra. Her nipples were beaded, like ripe berries. His mouth watered as he thought about licking and nibbling her there, and everywhere. Her wide eyed glance told him she'd noticed the direction of his stare. Tearing his gaze off her luscious tits, he turned his head to note Baker's smirk of satisfaction. He thought he'd finally gotten past the girl's defenses.
"Um, um, of course," Gina stammered.
"That's just fine then." Bart sat his martini glass down on the bar with a clink. "If you'll excuse me, Libby, I'm late for my luncheon appointment."
Mitch's gaze snapped over to the rotund older man. The man still dyed his hair jet black, a hold over from his acting days, he surmised. Mitch had taken the precaution of doing a light background search on the man, not that there was much to find. Plump, and a hanger on, he favored showgirls and gambling, which explained his frequent trips to Las Vegas. He watched as Bart hurried out of the room, giving Baker a pointed look, which the business manager studiously ignored. Mitch cataloged the silent exchange for later.
Baker closed his briefcase and stood up. "Excellent, I'm glad things are going so smoothly." He slanted a sharp glance Mitch's way. "I'll give you my number, in case you need my help."
Mitch could feel Gina stiffen from where he sat, saw her watchful gaze narrow, and had to rein in his feral instinct to lash out at the man. He was so close to salvation, he wasn't going to allow the stupid ass to muck things up. There was no need to fan the fire of Gina's doubts, or blow his cover. "I won't need it," he bit out, his voice clipped.
Baker frowned, then shrugged, packing up his papers. "Fine then. I'll speak with you later." He walked from the room.
Out of the corner of his eye, Mitch watched Gina give her grandmother a what's going on look. Libby Sinclair's extracted promise of silence on his part had him in a stranglehold, so he couldn't go after this in an open, easy way. She was sure her granddaughter would refuse the services of Wolf Investigations. From this meeting, he had to agree. She was feisty, unpretentious, utterly beguiling. Yeah, he could just picture her shock if he blurted out I'm here to protect you. I'm also a werewolf and only a key to the Lupine Treasure hidden somewhere in Xanadu can save me.
Libby smiled. "Gina dear, I want you to personally show Mr. Lamb around and help him get settled in Eden. Give him all the help he needs."
Casting a furtive look back at him, Gina asked. "Are you sure about this, Grandmother?"
"Trust me, dear. I'd see to it myself but I'm late for an appointment with my designer for the Sinclair Ball."
Gina bit her lip, knowing she was sunk. Avoiding Mitch Lamb's appeal would be like the Titanic avoiding an iceberg—not bloody likely. She hadn't felt this flustered in years, and he damn well knew it. Even if he wasn't one of Harold Baker's spies, which she still wasn't ruling out, he was way out of her league. She didn't want to be just one more notch on his bedpost.
"Don't let Madeline wear you out," Gina said, feeling her tension mount as she gave Grandmother a kiss on the cheek. She'd just try to stifle her feelings. Turning to walk away, she called over her shoulder, "Coming?"
Mitch hurried to catch up, startled by her abrupt flight. She was walking fast, no doubt feeling threatened. He couldn't blame her for running, besides, he enjoyed the chase. They reached the doorway at the same time, and Mitch managed it so they collided. Time to reassert his presence.
Gina gasped, bouncing off him.
Mitch felt the contact deep inside, and decided it had been a stupid move on his part. Her breasts pillowed against his chest, their crotches collided and he felt sparks ignite deep inside him as his cock swelled. Just who was the predator here? He couldn't help feeling like the one caught in a trap, as he grabbed her around the waist to steady her.
Groaning as Gina's gaze locked with his, Mitch told himself to knock it off but couldn't. She had the deer in the headlights look again, the one that brought out the protective instincts in him, and he couldn't help focusing on the racing pulse in her throat. She was so cute, two fetching specks of pink paint dotted her upturned nose. Her fragrance, something light and heady, wrapped around him and he wondered where she applied it. How shocked would she be if he bent to sniff her, taste her? He stifled a growl as his cock twitched, growing stiffer.
"You can let go of me now, Mr. Lamb."
Gina's sweet voice only made him throb, kicking his arousal into overdrive. She felt it, he could tell by her quick intake of breath, but she didn't try to pull away, just kept a wary gaze focused on him. This was sweet torture. Too bad it wasn't the old days when storming a castle meant taking its women by force. Now a guy had to use subtlety, something he lacked. Not yours to take, he had to grimly remind himself. "It's Mitch," he corrected her, gently.
She licked her lips. "Mitch."
His set her back on her heels and his hands reluctantly dropped away from her waist. She was delicate, human, no match for a beast like him. "Why don't you show me Eden?" he said, finally finding his tongue. He looked over his shoulder to see Libby beaming at them and wondered what that meant. Apparently, she didn't have any idea of the damage he could do.
Gina turned and hurried out of the library. She led him to the French doors facing the courtyard, and then edged away. "The cottages are Eros, Eden, and the Rosebud—my studio. If you walk through the gate, you can take the flagstone path."
He watched her literally back away, his eyes narrowing. Why the retreat? Had she finally sensed his intentions? "Aren't you coming with me?"
She smiled. "I rode my bike."
Mitch felt instant relief, seeing her smile. "Your Harley." At his mention of her motorcycle, he saw her smile vanish, and felt a light dim inside him.
"How did you know about that?"
Suspicion was rife in her voice and he didn't like it one bit. Stupid move on his part, letting her in on his inside knowledge.
She frowned. "Oh, right, Baker."
"I didn't say that," Mitch cut in, but Gina was already striding away from him, toward the butler he'd noticed upon entering. The man stood like a sentinel, eyeing him with suspicion—the old family retainer was no fool. There was something different about the guy but Mitch was too focused on Gina to pay him much mind.
"Is there a problem, Miss Gina?" the butler asked, stepping into Mitch's path.
Blocked, Mitch suddenly had visions of tangling with the elder, something he didn't want to do, as the butler let out a sniff like he smelled something bad. He wasn't here to spill blood, but to save it. He stared down the man but the butler didn't budge, even though his eyes widened as if he was startled by something.
Gina stepped back to touch the butler's arm. "No problem, Frank. Mr. Lamb will be staying at Eden while he conducts an inventory of the estate. I trust it's ready for visitors."
Mitch couldn't help glaring at her hand touching another man. He was jealous. It was stupid, he hadn't claimed her for his own, couldn't have her, but he couldn't stop the possessive feeling.
"Of course," the butler replied, stepping aside as he eyed him with new caution.
Mitch felt about as welcome as an ant at a picnic as they both swept him with troubled looks, but he stood his ground. He trailed Gina out the front door, not liking her sigh of displeasure.
Gina stalked toward her bike, saying, "Gram isn't fragile or senile like your boss is intimating..."
So they were back to Harold Baker being his supposed puppet master. "For the record, he's not my boss," Mitch cut in, stalking her. The assertion that he worked for Harold Baker bothered him more than it should. After all, he was here on an undercover mission, deception was par for the course. Didn't matter, he had to set the record straight. "It's common knowledge that you drive a motorcycle, Gina. Shocks some of the country club set, I'm told." She looked at him then, her smile warming him again.
She wrinkled her nose as she lovingly touched the motorcycle. "I know, according to Uncle Bart, it's not ladylike."
Admiring the bike's sleek lines, he stepped up beside her. Cherry red, it went with Gina's adventurous spirit and her fiery red hair. He cocked an intrigued glance her way, what would it feel like to have her stroke him that way? She was a breath away and watching him warily. His hands itched to reach out, touch her, and caress her. Instead, he stuffed them in his pockets. "Why don't you give me a ride?"
She blushed and looked away.
Idiot, he told himself, he hadn't intended the double entendre. The pretty human had a strange way of making him lose control.
Slanting a slow glance at him, she said with a grumble, "I suppose there's little chance of getting rid of you."
Relieved that she was willing to overlook his blunder, he grinned at her sarcasm. "No chance at all."
She reached in her saddlebag to pull out a spare helmet, and thrust it at him. "Here put this on."
Mitch noted the art supplies filling the other side of the saddlebag. She must have bought out the store. Of course, growing up rich, she doubtless didn't know the value of a dollar. His pack hadn't had that advantage, and he was glad of it. He knew the value of his possessions and he cherished them. Could the American princess climbing onto her Harley say the same?
His background check on her hadn't turned up much. Never in trouble with the law, she'd studied art in Paris, and now worked as a commercial artist. Unmarried, she didn't have any romantic entanglements, at least none that he'd turned up. He suddenly found himself glad of that fact.
He watched her don her helmet, glad she was smart enough to wear it, and put on his. Having her follow simple safety rules made his mission to protect her easier, not that he put much stock in the assertion that she was really in danger. He'd already been told about a few accidents, which were probably only that. Until he had reason to believe otherwise, he'd go on that assumption. The fact that it freed him up for his search bit at his conscience, but he salved it, knowing even half of his attention would be enough to protect her. Twice as strong as a mere man, even with his power waning, he felt up for the task.
That wasn't all that was up, Mitch thought with a groan as he climbed on behind her and grabbed her waist as she started the bike. His hard on sandwiched between their bodies, he thought he was going to lose it.
She took off with a roar, and he held on tight swearing with every bump they clattered over. It was sexual torture and served him right for even fantasizing about poaching outside his species. Some guy's going to marry her and keep her, he told himself, not you.
If Gina felt the hard thump of his cock against her bottom, she didn't let on. Her moves were fast, but efficient as she drove them down the long driveway and onto the lane. They drove along the fenced wall surrounding the vast estate, to the rear, and turning into an open gate, drove to the three cottages clustered by the pool.
Mitch gingerly climbed off the bike, noticing the lack of security. It was the first change he'd make, and he'd approach Libby Sinclair about it the first chance he got. Having a few members of his pack standing by could only be of benefit to him.
He gazed at the three fairy tale appearing, Tudor style cottages and the azure blue swimming pool beyond them. The estate was well named, Xanadu indeed, but he wasn't worried about finding paradise here, just deliverance from a curse. He handed Gina his helmet, watching her stow it and then heft out the bag of art supplies. "Allow me to help you," he said, snatching the sack from her and earning a look of surprise.
"Um, thanks, but it's not that heavy, I can carry it," she said, trailing after him.
Mitch kept walking toward her cottage at the end of the row. She was frustrated and a wee bit nervous, natural reactions to his morph from Baker's stooge to gentlemen. She didn't know which to believe, smart girl. "Nonsense, and deprive me of a chance to prove my gallantry? So tell me about Xanadu."
A few seconds of silence ticked by as she hesitated. "It's big."
"I can see that," he commented, not put off by her reticence.
She tilted a curious glance his way. "What do you want to know?"
"Everything," he said, noting the mingled curiosity and distrust in her face. "Who built it? How old is it?"
"It's ancient, the east tower dates back to the old country. An ancestor, Darrin Sinclair, had it brought over and reconstructed piece by piece. It's said he built it for his lover. It's a wonderful place."
He could see her warming to her tale and it touched him. "Why do you love it so much?"
"How could I not? It's my heritage, a part of me. Growing up in a fairy tale like setting has warped my mind, I guess," she concluded with a chuckle.
"I wouldn't say that," he answered, stepping closer. He saw her intake of breath as he invaded her personal space and moved in for the kill. "A place this old must have legends, secret passageways." He watched her for a guilty reaction, but saw none. Then she turned to smile at him and his heart melted.
"Yes indeed, the Love Chronicles."
Love Chronicles, what the hell was that? He'd been hoping for a hint about the key to his survival. "What?"
"Love letters and poems written by an ancestor and said to be hidden at Xanadu. I used to search for them as a child but never found them."
He tried to hide his disappointment but saw awareness in her eyes that he was crestfallen. Since when had a human ever been able to read him? Since your powers were blunted, stupid, came the answer. "No secret treasure?"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, God, you're one of them."
"We had a chimney sweep who dismantled it looking for a pot of gold, a maid who dug holes in the backyard, only to run off with a weird tale of werewolves stalking her. Not to mention the score of alleged tradesmen who've cased the joint looking for the treasure. I'm telling you right now, it doesn't exist."
Treasure! He couldn't believe she'd just volunteered it that easily. "What treasure?" he asked, hoping it wasn't wishful thinking, and that he hadn't completely misinterpreted her words.
"The Lupine Treasure, said to 'deliver riches to he who finds it and cure beasties of their ailments'."
He felt time stand still as she quoted him part of the rhyme his grandsire had told him. "You don't say."
"I'm telling you this for your own good, treasure hunter, all I ever found was the scroll and it never led to anywhere."
"Scroll?" He could damned near taste it, salvation was so near.
"Come on," she said with a sigh, leading the way to her cottage. "I might as well show you so you can see for yourself it's a lost cause."
Mitch trailed after her, feeling like a puppet on her string. He waited while she unlocked her door and followed her inside. Standing inside her cottage, he looked around, too on edge to be soothed by her cheerfully decorated living room.
"Give me that." She took the bag from him.
Mitch watched her put it on the table and then walk to a bookcase. She came back carrying a rolled up scroll. He could feel its power, smell the wolf bane it'd been soaked in to ward off vampires, but it was clear that she didn't perceive any of those things as she negligently thrust it at him.
"Read it, and be gone."
He heard her bitter disappointment but tried not to focus on it. She thought he was only interested in the treasure. She was dead wrong, although she'd never know how he ached to take her. He unfurled the old document and read.
The Lupine Treasure is easy to find for those with a loving heart. All others beware, for danger lies there. It has the power to provide great riches to he who discovers it. A price above rubies, to he who finds the key to knowledge. It has the power to cure beasties that walk the night of their afflictions.
He looked up to see her watching him and handed it back with a smile. "It's a riddle."
"Know any vampires that might need curing?" she asked flippantly.
He raised a brow. Actually...but he wouldn't go there. "Vampires?"
"Creatures that walk the night."
"How about werewolves?" he asked, gauging her reaction. He didn't have to wait long to see her quick grin.
"Now you sound like Frank. He used to tell me fairy tales about them. I stopped believing them when I was five." She swept him with a curious glance, teasing, "Don't tell me you believe in those, too?"
"Of course not," he hurried to reassure her. "Speaking of treasure, I could use some help with my inventory."
"Why don't you ask one of Harold Baker's secretaries?" At his frown, she blushed. "Sorry, I guess that was below the belt."
"It's okay. I'm used to rough treatment." He saw her shock and cursed his loose tongue. If she were a she-wolf, she'd be snarling at him by now. Instead, she looked intrigued. Dangerous, he didn't want her probing into his secrets.