Snared – Kristen Banet, K. N. Banet

What am I doing out here?” I asked myself, knowing no one would hear me. I was sitting on the balcony, watching the sunset turn the sky into a show of pinks, purples, reds, and oranges. I could see the mountains that lined the desert valley. Soaking in the last of the dying heat, I felt sluggish, thanks to the winter chill. Others thought the easy days in the fifties and sixties were a reason to move to Phoenix or spend their winters here. Snowbirds, everyone called them. Personally, I wished I could move to Australia and spend my winter months in their desert in the middle of their summer. It would be nice to travel, to stay in warmer climates. Lazily moving my finger over the trackpad of my laptop, I wondered what I was even doing, trying to chain two thoughts together. More research, probably. This was the problem with colder days. It was easy for me to get lethargic and lose my train of thought. I could have stayed inside with the heat on, but then I would get cabin fever. I didn’t do well when I didn’t see the sun on a daily basis. Blinking slowly, I yawned and leaned back, giving up on whatever my task had been.

It wasn’t like it was going to help me with anything I was working on. Nothing ever did. I didn’t react when I heard the front door of my condo open and close. Heavy footsteps told me exactly who it was, tired as he came back from the building’s state-ofthe-art gym. I knew he would pick right up after a shower, so I wasn’t concerned about how hard he worked himself. Raphael knew how far he could take his body, and now that he knew the full scope of the dangers in the supernatural world, he was beginning to cope better than when I met him. He worked hard every night to stay in perfect physical condition while I slowly researched everything I could on the mysteries that surrounded him. My eyes drifted closed as the sun disappeared, leaving the chilly night. I didn’t open them again until the patio door opened, and his heavy footsteps announced his arrival. I could smell his shampoo and aftershave, some fancy brand I knew I was paying for.

It was masculine as hell, a mix between musk, leather, and cedar. He had the whole damn set—shampoo, conditioner, aftershave, and cologne. It was a scent I both searched for and wanted to escape every time it drifted my way. My fangs dropped, annoying me to no end. I tried my best to stay relaxed, not wanting to open my eyes and see the man who didn’t know he was my potential mate. “Hey, Kaliya, taking a nap?” he asked, sitting down on a lounge chair close by. “Considering it.” The laptop disappeared from under my hand. I didn’t try to get it back, focusing my attention on getting my fangs to lay back down. Luckily, they cooperated while he read what I had been looking at.

“‘Mygi was named for four supernatural healers from the vampires, witches, werewolves, and fae, using the first letter of each of their last names,’” he read softly. “I thought we already researched the origins of the company.” “I did, but I’ve been stuck, and it seemed like something I could read over tonight,” I explained, yawning. “How was your workout?” “Good. This place has a great gym. I was asked by one of the building managers, though, to bring up how hot you’ve been keeping the condo. You know you have the heat turned up to nearly ninety, right?” I could hear his annoyance. “Yup.” I wasn’t concerned. The building manager knew I kept it hot when I was in residence, but I had never stayed at the condo longer than a couple of weeks at a time.

Raphael and I had been living in it since early December. Cassius and Sorcha had been coming back from their honeymoon, and the repairs had finally been finished from the tossing Sinclair had given it, so I took the chance to run. Cassius had wanted me to stay longer because my main house was getting lengthier repairs, but I wanted to be back in my own space even though I didn’t get the solitude I truly craved. I had a roommate, and he was sitting next to me. Solitude was probably something I was never truly going to get back, something I tried desperately to sort out my feelings about. It was an impossible task since I was very good at avoiding my feelings altogether. “You realize the electric bill is going to be expensive, right?” “I live in a rooftop penthouse in downtown Phoenix, worth more money than you have ever earned.” The condo was worth nearly two million, took up the entire roof of the building, and was twenty-two hundred square feet with two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and two stories tall. It was one of those penthouses that looked like a house built on top of a different building. I was rich, and thanks to that, I had no neighbors—just the way I liked it.

I turned my head, finally opening my eyes, and gave Raphael a bored look. “Do you really think I’m worried about the electricity bill?” “Fine.” He shrugged and got up, walking back inside. I yawned again and realized I needed to get inside, or I would end up falling asleep on my patio. I reached to get my laptop and found he had taken it inside. The glass of my penthouse doors and windows was tinted, making it hard to see inside. I was only able to make out his silhouette, moving into the kitchen, probably about to make an unreasonably large meal. I went inside and locked the patio for the night, my pulse jumping as I entered the heat. It felt like I was given straight caffeine, or someone plugged me into an outlet. The heat brought me to life, banishing the sluggishness I had been feeling.

“So, what are you going to eat?” I asked, following him into the kitchen. “More red meat?” “I was thinking salmon, actually. I picked up some yesterday, along with some other groceries,” he answered, seeming unfazed by my sudden energy. I knew he wouldn’t be. After a few months living together, I liked to think Raphael and I understood each other well enough or at least understood each other’s habits. I didn’t really know him, but I could plan my entire day around him. Like me, he woke up late and went down to the gym for three hours, came back up to the penthouse and showered, then made enough food to feed a small village. Sometimes I ate with him, sometimes I passed and had one of my own snacks. After that, I went down to the gym and did my own workout, glad to be away from him, the smell of his aftershave, and the view of his exercised muscles bulging under whatever size-too-small shirt he was wearing. How it was a size too small I didn’t know.

Every shred of clothing he owned was spelled by the fae tailors to fit him perfectly, forever. I wasn’t careful and breathed in through my nose, catching the smell of him, all of him —his aftershave, his natural human musk that was never truly gone, and a hint of sweat from his time in the gym. My fangs dropped, telling me it was time to go. “Well, have a good meal,” I said, slapping the counter as I walked out, trying to will my fangs back into their resting position. Every night, like clockwork, I found myself with the intense need to bite, claim, and keep the man of mystery tied to me for my immortal life. Every night, like clockwork, I walked away from the urge. It wasn’t hard, but it took more effort than I liked. I had to push my feet to keep walking to get out of his space. I had to focus on the door, only pausing to grab my workout bag from the front closet before running out of my own home. I knew I had to disappear for at least an hour to let his scent dissipate.

It was always strongest after he worked out and showered; too intense for my self-control. I made my way to the first floor of my building and went into the gym, making sure to lock it behind me. It was against building code, but I purposefully worked out late enough, there was very rarely anyone trying to come in. When someone did, they generally moved on and went somewhere else. No one had tried to report me to the building’s manager. I started breezing through my workout, trying to let it take me away from the problems upstairs. In the nearly four months since Raphael became my burden to bear, we were nowhere closer to understanding him. Mygi sent over documents, but none of them were helpful. What little they claimed to learn about him was roughly the same as what Raphael had already told me. They offered simple biological facts that could help, but their own research hadn’t pointed to anything, or so they claimed.

I didn’t believe a damn word of it, but I couldn’t force the issue anymore. The Tribunal was allowing Mygi to wall themselves off. They did too much good for the rest of the supernatural world for everyone to get up in arms about one mostly-human man. It pissed me off but let me know they were still my enemy. Mygi wanted to keep secrets, and I was dedicated to discovering them. Too bad I had no idea where to start. I had learned very little since the Sinclair situation was handled. Raphael and I had finally found time to talk about other things he remembered, but none of it was helpful. Raphael had escaped from a lab located in the Rockies, then moved down to the desert because he knew the area and the people. He bounced around, running from them, but he couldn’t remember how to get back to the lab or point me in the right direction.

That indicated some magic—a spell, charm, or glamour—which erased someone’s detailed memory of its location. Both witches and fae could pull it off, but it would need someone very powerful or a group to pull it off on a large location. There were probably very few people who knew how to get to that mysterious lab. I was playing cautious about asking anyone in the Tribunal, or even Cassius, to get Mygi’s cooperation. The head honchos at Mygi were already pissed at me, and I didn’t want to give them any more of a reason to hate me, not now that I knew what they were capable of. Once I have something, I can unravel this entire fucking thing, but I don’t have shit. The fuckers at Mygi are probably laughing at me every damn night. I finished my set on the bench press and sighed. I was working out to take my mind off it, yet it was the very thing I thought about every night. It kept me awake most of the time.

One of the reasons I sat out on my patio in the cool evenings was to let my mind go quiet in the chill. Anything to take my mind away from the questions I was struggling to answer. I grabbed a small, clean towel from my bag and threw it over my neck, checking the time as I walked out of the gym. I had been working out for two hours, and Raphael was probably waiting on me upstairs to get something started or give him some task to do. I didn’t have much. Normally, we spent our nights either trying to get him to remember more or just going over supernatural knowledge he needed to know. Walking back into the penthouse, my nose caught the scent I loved and hated. I followed it into the kitchen, where Raphael was sitting at the bar over an empty plate. He was reading something, but I couldn’t catch the title. “How was your workout?” he asked, not looking up.

“Good. What do you want to do tonight?” I asked, suddenly uncomfortable. I hated when he tried small talk. I wasn’t very good at it, and I didn’t want to be good at it—not with him. Every day he was in my space, the more used to him I became, and I didn’t like that. I didn’t like how my fangs dropped every night and need curled in my belly when I saw him. I didn’t like the trouble surrounding him, when I had enough of that in my own life. “I think I want to go out,” he said, sighing. “Other than errands, we never leave. I’m going a bit crazy, to be honest.

” I sighed and sat down three seats from him. My penthouse was designed to host parties and have guests, not that I ever had either. “There’s only one place I go to on a Friday night, and that’s The Jackalope. It’s a seedy little bar where most of the city’s bounty hunters hang out between jobs. Paden, the owner, is a fae who makes most of his money dealing in information. If that sounds interesting, sure, we can go and have a couple of drinks.” I wasn’t feeling up to a night out, but this was the first time Raphael showed any interest in going out. We had established a new identity for him, so the humans didn’t give him a second look. There was no reason for him to stay cooped up with me. There was no reason he needed to live apart from the supernatural world.

“A seedy little bar with criminals?” He narrowed his eyes on me. “I’m not surprised that’s your suggestion.” “Maybe it’ll be good for you. There are all sorts of supernaturals who go there on a regular basis. On top of that, the seedy shit really only happens downstairs. We don’t have to go down there if you don’t want to.” I grinned. I was starting to like the idea. Raphael gave me a curious look, then turned away, his expression unreadable. “I’ll check it out,” he said enigmatically.

I jumped up to go take a shower and get ready. Before I left the kitchen, I looked back and smiled. “Call Cassius and Sorcha. Maybe they’ll slum with us for the evening.” I didn’t tell him the only reason I wanted to invite them was for his protection. Only a few short months ago, the bar had been full of people looking to capture him for ten million dollars.

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