Moonstruck – Dannika Dark

Of all the pawnshops in Cognito, Pawn of the Dead sold some of the rarest antiquities I’d ever seen. After hours of relic hunting, this was our fourth and final destination for the day. Our unannounced inspections always inspired shopkeepers to find creative ways to conceal their contraband, but they all knew the drill. While our confiscating illegal paraphernalia cut into their profits, it certainly didn’t deter them. Weapons like guns, axes, machetes, knives, and so forth were permissible—they could even sell cannons for all we cared. What made an item banned from public sale was infusion with magic meant to subdue or kill Breed. Impalement stakes included, even though they were found in nature. It wasn’t illegal to own a stunner or carry one, but the higher authority outlawed those items from sale in public stores. They not only felt it sent the wrong message, but humans could easily get their hands on the weapons. It had been a few weeks since I’d moved out of my father’s house and back in with Keystone. Viktor had wasted no time taking on new assignments. Christian and I had spent a week tracking down a Vamp who was leaving corpses in the human district after draining them dry. Blood addiction was a nasty thing, and this guy had been so out of control that it didn’t take long to apprehend him. In the act. I hefted a vase and studied the inscription on the bottom.

“Lookie what I found!” Gem bounded toward me, her arms clutching a book tightly to her chest, her eyes lit with excitement. With each step, her wavy hair bounced, the pale lavender locks just as vibrant as her violet eyes. Watching her run in stacked shoes was amusing, but she managed to do it with grace and flair. I glanced down at her discovery. “What’s so exciting about a book?” Claude barked out a laugh from the next aisle over. Ignoring him, Gem set the book on a shelf and gingerly lifted the cover to let me peek inside. “Fifteenth-century Portugal, written by a Relic scholar. Just look at the calligraphy.” Her bright pink fingernails hovered above the page but didn’t touch. “What’s the significance?” I asked, setting my vase on a higher shelf.

“It proves that Breed existed in Portugal! Immortals like to trace back their ancestry just like humans, but it’s a little easier for us to go further back. Shifters insist that no Breed dwelled in Portugal until they claimed territory in the eighteenth century. This book not only proves unequivocally that they’re wrong, but there’s also mention of a Mage architect. Who knows how many others were there? That’s why I love pawnshops. We’re literally discovering history.” Gem acted as if someone had rolled her up in unicorn sparkles and tossed her in a pink cloud of joy. She always got excited when discovering uncommon objects, but historical books were her catnip. I scratched my eyebrow with my pinky. “What’s the point of learning history? All you have are these books written in secret or a few illegal paintings and photographs, but you’re not allowed to make them public. The higher authority doesn’t want us to know about our past.

We’re not allowed to document or record details about our lives. No pictures, no names, nada.” Unaffected by my cynicism, she lifted her chin. “Maybe someday that’ll change. If we ever go public and reveal ourselves to humans, names won’t matter anymore. But in the meantime, we have to save everything. Our history is just as important as theirs, if not more. Before the higher authority was around, there were simply elders who would try to maintain order. Most of them banned us from writing books, and they worked hard to destroy them. So the very fact that some survived is a miracle.

Most wound up in personal collections, but think of how many were tossed as scrap after the owner died!” A tall man appeared at the far end of the aisle with a mask on his face. I recognized Claude’s white T-shirt and V-shaped torso. While the paint was faded, the mask’s expression was exaggerated and demonic. Gem rocked on her heels, oblivious to Claude’s antics as she closed the book and lifted it off the shelf. “It’s even written in a rare dialect spoken by Relics. They had a language that was code so that only they could read it.” “Why would they write it all down if they pass it in their DNA?” “Not all Relics have children, so some of them used to document all their knowledge in books that would become their legacy.” Claude inched closer behind her. I regarded him impassively before looking at Gem’s new treasure. “What do you do with all the books you find?” “I translate them.

Not everyone understands these languages, so I copy all the text in English to new books and preserve the originals in the archive.” “Maybe they belong in a library.” She gazed up in wonderment. “A Breed library? Imagine, piles of books as tall as the ceiling and rows that go on forever. Alas, my dreams are dashed by politically enforced laws that prohibit the exhibition of Breed literature.” Gem spun on her heel like a cartoon character and shrieked at Claude. The book hit the floor with a thwack. Claude’s long arms reached for her, his fingers curled like claws. “Jiminy Christmas! Look what you made me do, you big scamp.” She bent down and cradled the book in her arms before springing back to her feet.

“And just so you know, that Polynesian mask is inhabited by an ancient spirit. Anyone you look at through its eyes is cursed.” Gem strode away, her pleated skirt swishing from side to side. She was so petite that from behind, she looked like a teenager. Claude removed the painted mask and shook out his curls of golden hair. “I love her vernacular.” He gave me a sheepish grin and set the mask on the shelf. “Do you think it’s really cursed?” I looked up at Claude, who was a good ten inches taller than me. “Everything in here is probably cursed. You didn’t look at me, did you? I’ve got enough hexes going on.

I don’t need another.” Claude’s winsome smile could thaw an iceberg. “No, but I wonder what Cosmo would do if I put it on and had a little chat with him about the stunners he keeps selling.” Cosmo was the surfer-looking guy with dreads who ran the shop. “April Fools’ Day was weeks ago. He’ll never fall for it.” Claude raised the sleeve on his shirt and scratched his arm. Wearing clothes that covered his muscular shoulders must have been hard for him. If Claude wasn’t in a tank top, you could usually find him shirtless. All that rope climbing in the gym paid off, and he liked displaying the fruits of his labor.

But while on Keystone assignments, Claude dressed as if he was trying to avoid Viktor’s judgmental gaze. He noticed my empty hands. “Didn’t you find anything?” I reached in my back pocket and pulled out a long blade. “What do you make of this?” He studied the gold handle and dull edges. “It looks like a letter opener.” “I figured as much. Does it feel strange to you?” His brow furrowed. “How do you mean?” “I pricked my arm with it, and it’s not a stunner. But it feels weird.” Claude chuckled.

“Is that how you test them? You stab yourself?” “This one hurt like a bitch. Dull blade and all.” I took back the object and admired the white stone in the handle. “You didn’t notice anything weird while touching it?” “Perhaps there’s residual energy only a Mage can detect.” I twirled it between my fingers and passed by him. “I think I should keep it. Better safe than sorry.” Claude swaggered up beside me. “Careful or you’ll turn into one of those hoarders they show on TV. We’ll have to use a wrecking ball to get inside your room after an avalanche of useless shit buries you alive.

” “I’m not a hoarder.” He clasped his hands behind his back and fell into an easy stride. “First it’s letter openers. Next it’s three hundred egg cartons.” I poked his side with the dull blade. “Perish the thought.” The pawnshop had a lot of tall shelves on the left side of the building. Cosmo spent most of his time at a glass display counter that ran along the right side of the shop and the back wall. Security guards watched for shoplifters, but most of the expensive stuff was beneath the glass or mounted on the wall. Viktor sealed up a cardboard box on the counter, the tape dispenser loud enough to make heads turn.

Cosmo watched with a look of derision, his arms folded and the lines on his forehead deep. “What happens to all the shit you confiscate? Oh, wait, it gets sold.” “It is sold to responsible people,” Viktor informed him. Cosmo snorted. “Yeah, who turn around and sell it for a higher price on the black market.” “You know the laws. If you choose to make personal transactions out of your home, that is not my concern. But when you store them under this roof or sell more than one or two, that is where I come in.” I offered the letter opener to Viktor. “I’ve got another one for the pile.

” “I just finished taping the box,” he said. “Add it to Gem’s.” “Wait a second,” Cosmo sang, reeling in closer to have a look. “That’s not an illegal weapon. You can’t just take whatever you feel like from my store. This isn’t a charity.” “It looks suspicious.” He swept his arm to the headsman’s axe on the wall. “Lady, everything I sell looks suspicious. If you want to collect stunners in the name of the law, fine.

But you can’t just steal my bread and butter because it suits your fancy.” Viktor always paid a fair price for anything of historical interest, so I didn’t want to raise a ruckus. “Fine. How much?” Cosmo tapped his fingers against his puka shell necklace, which matched his shipwrecked wardrobe. By his gaunt face, you’d think he’d spent the past five years on a deserted island instead of behind a counter. “Two hundred smackeroos.” I marveled at the play of colors within the milky-white stone on the letter opener. The handle fit nicely in my palm. Too bad it wasn’t a weapon. “It’s not real gold,” I pointed out.

“This looks more like brass.” “You’re getting a deal. That stone is an opal, and I could charge a lot more in a human store for it.” I gave him a sardonic smile. “So what you’re telling me is that it has no value in a Breed shop. I’ll give you fifty dollars.” “Lookie, you people take more than enough from me. If you run me out of business, what’ll you do with all your free time?” Cosmo was probably a master haggler, so no matter what, he was going to walk away ahead of what he paid for it. “I’ll go as low as one seventy. Take it or leave it.

” I almost turned away, but then I considered what a cool gift this would make for Gem. Hooper’s death had been rough on her, and maybe we hadn’t done a good job of making her feel appreciated. Gem loved surprises, and I knew how she felt about gemstones. This one was probably loaded with all that chakra energy she was always going on about. I took out my wallet and counted the bills before setting them on the counter. Meanwhile, Viktor and Claude collected two boxes and hauled them out to the van. “So what’s the history behind it?” I asked. Cosmo put the money in his cash drawer. “Beats me. That’s why it’s not in the glass counter.

People like a good story tied to their shit. Enforcers confiscated it in some sting operation on a Mage who was buying and destroying artifacts and historical goods. He’s dead now. That’s all I know.” “Why would anyone destroy history?” “To hide secrets. That box your pixie friend made off with includes a few books from that bust. She’s lucky she got anything. The Mageri got dibs on everything pertaining to Mage history; the rest of it they hauled here. Most of the shit was unsellable. The spines were rotting and paper decayed.

The only thing salvageable was leftover junk from his personal collection. Sometimes people keep old stuff from their past for sentimental reasons even though it’s damaged. Can you believe they also gave me his toothbrush and shaving kit?” Cosmo rolled his eyes. “Do I look like I have time to go through a dead man’s toiletries?” Cosmo turned away, still rambling about all the extra work he did. I didn’t have anything against the guy aside from the fact he was an asshole. We all had our faults. ONCE WE MADE İT HOME, Gem dashed off to her secret room to sort through her newfound treasures. Viktor disappeared with his box of weapons while everyone else gravitated to the courtyard. The weather simply demanded it. After weeks of gloomy skies and abundant rain, the grass had overgrown, making it perfect to lie on.

While Kira had done a magnificent job pruning the native bushes and vines, Viktor scheduled for the lawn service people to stop by on their riding mowers. Instead of joining everyone out in the sun, I relaxed on the veranda, sipping my tea and watching Hunter leap around the courtyard like a frog. Bees hovered near a holly tree as if they had found their oasis. Blue strolled along one of the pathways, the breeze ruffling her long brown hair. Unlike mine, her hair was as straight as a board. She was barefoot, her cargo pants rolled up to the knee. After passing Wyatt and Shepherd, who were chatting on a bench, she stopped by her favorite winged statue of a grief-stricken man. I had to admit there was nothing angelic about the statues around Keystone. They were either battling or suffering. Niko snoozed on a patch of grass, his fingers laced across his chest and his eyes closed.

How regretful that he couldn’t see how vibrant the sky looked against the stone exterior of the mansion, like a sapphire jewel in a crafted setting. Christian stepped outside with dark sunglasses shading his sensitive eyes. He sat down between the arches of the short wall in front of me. “Where’s Claude?” I crossed my legs and looked into the courtyard behind him. “I think he passed out in the grass somewhere. Hunter wore him out. They were playing tag for about an hour.” “That’s hardly fair. A wee lad against a Chitah.” “Wyatt made him wear a blindfold, so he kept smacking into things.

” “’Tis a shame I missed that spectacle.” Christian’s gaze swept down to my bare legs, and he licked his lips. “Will you be wearing those shorts all summer? They don’t cover much, lass.” I stretched my long leg in his direction so he could get a better view. “I’m a bad girl.” His fangs descended slightly. “Indeed, you are.” Christian wasn’t wearing his usual grim attire of a trench coat over a Henley. He looked so out of character in a black tank top and jeans. “I didn’t know you liked jeans.

” A crooked smile wound up his face. “It’s laundry day.” “You should buy a pair of those tight bicycle shorts.” “Over my rotting corpse.” I uncrossed my legs and widened them just a little bit. When I did, I couldn’t strip my eyes away from Christian’s growing erection, visible as it pressed against his jeans. “What a shame. It’s nice wearing shorts in this weather. I couldn’t dress like this on the streets. They would have drawn too much unwanted attention.

” Christian got up and strolled over to the chair beside me. After he sat down, he reached across and put his hand on my leg, his fingers tucking between my thighs. “I can see why.” Awareness burned in his eyes, and I felt feverish from his touch. Christian and I were navigating our way through a new relationship, and we didn’t want to create unnecessary rules or pressure. We hadn’t opted for a shared bedroom. Some nights he stayed with me, and other nights I stayed with him. We didn’t always have sex; it wasn’t about that. I was discovering a new kind of intimacy with a man that had to do with trust, conversation, and patience. Sometimes we both wanted privacy and slept alone, and that was fine.

Nobody got jealous or sparked an argument. Our arrangement was unconventional, and it worked. It built up the sexual tension between us to a crescendo, and I had no complaints. He retracted his arm and sat back. “What’s on your mind, lass? You’ve been quiet all morning.” I wasn’t sure how to broach the topic as it had been stirring in my thoughts for a while now. After another sip of cold tea, I set the glass on the flat armrest of the Adirondack. “Tell me what you think before I mention this to Shepherd or Viktor.” I shifted in my seat to face him, my eyes scooping up the deliciousness of his biceps and tight-fitted shirt. “Shepherd’s busy with work, and Kira can’t keep an eye on Hunter with all her responsibilities.

Viktor didn’t hire her to be a nanny, and I think he’s beginning to see that. None of us have time to give this kid schooling. I’m assuming Breed kids have to be educated like everyone else.” Christian tipped his head to the side. “It depends on your definition of educated. Most Relics I’ve met don’t waste time teaching their children about history or economics. Their innate knowledge keeps them focused on their future career. With Shifters, it depends. Some of them have family businesses. The packmates teach the wee ones what they need to know.

” “But Hunter’s special. He needs a well-rounded education. We don’t know if he’ll grow up to do anything with his Relic knowledge. He’s also a Sensor. Not only that, he lives with a bunch of killers. I know Shepherd doesn’t want him neglected because we’re all busy. What do you think of a live-in nanny?” Christian drummed his fingers on the armrest. “Viktor has trust issues, so I don’t see that happening. He only took in Kira because of the friendship he had with her father.” I leaned on the armrest.

“He’s gonna have to trust someone. If that kid doesn’t get some structure in his life, he’ll be a nightmare to deal with. Like a mad dog. Face it— nobody who lives with us is going to come out of it well-adjusted. Not unless they have a good mentor.” “And where do you think Viktor will be able to find a nanny who won’t spill our secrets?” “What about Switch?” Christian dipped his chin so I could see his black eyes over the top of his shades. “Are you fecking with me? You want that numpty to move in here… with us? Well, that’s just grand.” “I thought you settled your differences. He’s not a bad guy.” “You didn’t think I’d be vexed over a man living in the next room who has his eyes on my lover?” I gave him an impish grin.

“I love it when you call me that.” He turned his head away. “I’ll not have it.” “Are you really jealous over someone I’m not interested in? Switch romanticized over the old me, but he doesn’t want anything to do with the new and improved Raven Black. The one who can kill a man with her thighs.” I stood up and scooted onto his lap. When I nuzzled against his neck and felt him harden beneath me, I knew he wasn’t as mad as he pretended to be. “Think about it,” I said, nipping his neck with the tips of my fangs. Christian hissed and wrapped his arms around me. “You’re not playing fair.

” If only we didn’t have an audience, I thought, glancing at the courtyard. I nestled against him and ran my fingers through his beard. “I’ve given it a lot of serious thought. Switch is the perfect solution. This is what he does for a living, and whatever Viktor paid him would be better than what he earns from the packs. He’s not happy about his situation, and we’re not happy about ours. I owe him for putting his life on the line to protect my father. He would never break my trust, and he’ll protect Hunter with his life. I told you about what got him in trouble with the packs in the first place.” “Aye.

He might have admirable qualities, but that doesn’t mean I want your ex living here.” “He’s not my ex. We never dated. We’ve never even kissed. Switch is good-looking, but I always liked those clean-cut guys.” “So that’s your type? The all-American quarterback?” I pinched Christian’s scruffy beard. “You’re my type. And I know you trust me.” “It’s him I don’t trust.” I stood up and raked my fingers through my hair.

“I don’t know how to change that. Would you trust a different man, or is it just him?” Christian gave me a mirthless smile. “Do you not know how persistent Shifters and Chitahs are by nature? They’re not only territorial, but they love a long courtship. Rejection among their kind is incentive to improve themselves and become worthy of a woman’s affections. What if Viktor sends me to some godforsaken country for another month? Your friend’s tail will start wagging, and you’ll see what I’m going on about.” I sat down on the low wall and sighed. “It was just an idea.” “So we find someone else.” “He’s the only one with the right qualifications. I didn’t want this to be an impulsive decision.

I gave myself weeks to mull it over and decide if Switch was the best fit. Isn’t it better to have workers with a personal connection to someone in this house? That’s the only reason Kira’s here. Besides, Switch is practically family.” I stood up and squared my shoulders. “I get that you’re jealous, but you need to think about what you’re saying. If you really trust me, then it wouldn’t matter if ten horny men who wanted me as their wife moved into this house. If you and I have an argument, I’m not the type who’ll run into the arms of another man. If you go on a long trip, I won’t become so desperately lonely that I’ll sleep around. That’s not who I am. And if that’s who you think I am, then you don’t really know me at all.

” He crossed his legs and stared in my direction. “Perhaps Lenore has experience.” “Sleeping with men? That I don’t doubt.” “I think you know the point I’m making.” I did, but Switch and I had a platonic relationship, whereas Lenore and Christian’s was mired in years of manipulation and blood sharing. And none of it by force. No, Christian had delighted in drinking her ancient blood, so I had reason to be jealous of someone like her in the house. It had nothing to do with my trust for Christian and everything to do with the control she had over him. Switch had zero control or influence over me, and that should count for something. I stared at my elongated reflection in his glasses.

“This isn’t about us. It’s about what’s best for that little boy running around on the lawn. If we don’t give him a fair shot in life, you might be the lucky Vamp who has to scrub away ten or twenty years of his life when he betrays us out of spite. I want you to sit here for a while and consider that.” “Why did you not just go around me and ask Viktor?” I strode up to Christian’s chair and planted my hands on the armrests. “Because if I pitch this idea to him, it would be nice to have your support. He’s known you a little bit longer. Maybe it’s not my place to get involved in what Shepherd wants to do with his kid, but I see an opportunity to help two people. Switch might not even agree to it, but maybe we should entertain the idea before tossing it out the window.” Over the top of his sunglasses, I could see the aim of his gaze was straight inside my blouse.

Good thing I’d skipped the bra this morning and wore a wide collar. I kissed him on the lips. “What are you willing to do to please me?” He lifted his chin. “Another man living here would please you?” “Your support turns me on.” I playfully nipped his bottom lip, and he growled low and sexily. “Think about it.” While heading back inside, I could feel Christian’s hot gaze all over my legs and ass. Reluctance was his middle name. It was his nature not to trust anyone, least of all someone he perceived as competition. But Switch had shown loyalty to my father and to me.

Anyone who would put his life on the line for my father was family in my book, and I couldn’t turn my back on the opportunity to repay him. Why hire a stranger when we could invite someone whom I trusted with my life? It might give Keystone peace of mind that Switch would never betray us. The real question was: Would they go for it?

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