“Lord Archer! Fancy meeting you here.” Alistair Pembroke. Founder of Pembroke Motor Corporation, the maker of everything from small airplanes, fancy automobiles to boats and yachts. Playboy extraordinaire. He’s as pretentious as they come. Eager and desperate to make a connection with the Palace. If only he knew that the Crown Prince and his pack were here, in California.
He reaches for my hand and pounds my back like we’re old friends.
“Mr. Pembroke,” I acknowledge him because to do otherwise is rude and I am anything but uncultured. It doesn’t mean that I like the prick.
“Ms. Helen Aristophanes.” He turns his attention to my companion. “How do you do?”
I have to refrain from making a snide comment because I know they knew each other in a biblical sense...more than once, while she professed to be loyal only to me.
“Mr. Pembroke.” Helen bestows him one of her sultry and seductive smiles and offers him her hand. His eyes make a quick scan over her body before he lifts her hand up to his lips.
“So, what brings the legendary Lord Archer here tonight?” he asks, bringing his attention back to me after slowly releasing her hand. “I never thought I’d see you among humans.”
I dig my hands into the pocket of my pants and look around us. The Charity Gala is in full swing; flowing champagne, live music, men in their thousands of dollar suits and women flaunting themselves in designer dresses. This place is crawling with humans. I only see two other lycans here tonight. They’re probably Pembroke’s security detail or his friends. It’s the place to see and to be seen. No one really gives a damn about the cause. “Why, to support the charity, of course,” I deadpan.
“Yes, of course,” he replies.
“There you are, Alistair.” A beautiful lycan woman sidles up next to him. “I was looking for you,” she says before she casts her eyes up to me expectantly.
“Lord Archer, let me introduce you to my date, Juana Vega,” says Pembroke. “Juana, this Lord Archer and his date, Ms. Helen Aristophanes.”
“His companion, actually,” says Helen before I have the chance to say anything. She curls her fingers around my arm. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Oh, my...you’re Lord Archer,” breathes Juana Vega. Her eyes bright in her face. “Alistair, you never told me that you knew Lord Archer.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Vega,” I tell her, shaking her offered hand.
“The pleasure’s all mine.” She’s still looking starstruck. I feel Helen’s hand tightens around my bicep and I try to hide my annoyance. I need to have a talk with Helen about this possessiveness soon. We both understand that she has no claim over me as I have no claim over her.
“Well, you have to sit with us.” Pembroke raises his hand to indicate the VIP section at the front.
“I’m afraid, we won’t be staying,” I tell him.
“Oh, do stay, please. The dance floor will be cleared for dancing soon,” he insists. Pembroke has been trying hard to get close to me for years. I’m guessing that’s because of my connection to the palace.
“I wish I could, but I have work to do, Mr. Pembroke.”
“Darling, you’re always working. The party looks like fun.” Helen pouts. I’m sure Alistair Pembroke finds her pout sexy. I find the sight irritating.
“You know very well that I can’t stay. Besides, we have that reservation at Providence,” I tell her. I’m here to deliver a message from the palace to one of the most powerful allies outside the Kingdom. Message delivered. My job is done. I need to leave. “Perhaps our paths will cross again in the future, Mr. Pembroke.”
Helen pouted and didn’t say a word at the back of the limo. The moment we sat down for dinner, however, she’s been talking my ear off.
I see her mouth moving but my mind is occupied with other matters and that’s a bad sign.
I made the arrangement with Helen to be my companion five years ago. No string attached. I found her to be entertaining then.
It’s understood that this is not going to be a permanent thing. I’m never going to make her my mate. That offering is never on the table. If one of us found our erasthai or when we’re simply bored with one another, we could end our arrangement at any time without any bad feelings.
In all those years, we’re not always together. Sometimes we’re away from each other for months, sometimes for nearly a year. She claimed to be spending time in Mykonos where her parents are but I doubt it. I never questioned where she went. It’s none of my business. Nor do I answer to her where I’d been or what I’d been up to.
I find her more irritating than usual these last few months...well, actually, it’s been a lot longer than that. I don’t quite remember when she stops being entertaining. Every word coming out of her mouth is grating on my nerves.
After my last stint with the Crown Prince Caspian and his pack, trying to save his erasthai, Quincy from the clutch of her former pack, I am positive that I need to end things soon with Helen. Maybe meeting with genuine females in his pack reminded me of how it should be with your partner or maybe the way Helen threw herself at the Prince and tried to create trouble between the Royal couple despite my warning is getting to me.
I have long given up all hopes of ever meeting my erasthai, but I need someone I could trust and genuinely like. For a werewolf, his mate is the other half of him. For a lycan, an erasthai is almost what a mate is for a werewolf. She is the one that your instinct tells you’d be most compatible with - mentally, emotionally, and physically. Your instinct tells you that in time, this is the female that you could fall deeply in love with for the rest of your life above all others. That is if you’re not already in love with her at first sight...or the first scent. She will be your obsession. Your life. Your everything.
“I heard there will be a Mating Ceremony at Banehallow Palace and that the Crown Prince and his pack have flown back to Russia. I’m sure you’re invited.” Helen’s voice penetrates through my thoughts. “Why don’t we go back to Russia? I’m sure the ball is to die for.”
Indeed I was invited but I have a few things to do here and a few other places. “I don’t think so.”
She pouts again. “You’re such a workaholic,” she complains, not for the first time. “Oh, just as well. I heard that the Prince is going to reject his intended. I still can’t believe he’s going to make that woman, Quincy his queen. She’s a little too plain, don’t you think?”
She knows too well that Quincy St. Martin is anything but plain. That woman is stunningly gorgeous and powerful. In fact, Quincy St. Martin was the only woman I found intriguing enough to even consider mating with. Too bad she’s the Crown Prince’s erasthai and my future queen. I’m loyal to the crown and I don’t bite the hands that feed me.
“I’m bored. We’re in L.A., I feel like partying even if you don’t.”
“Very well. You’ll have the car at your disposal tonight. I’ll let the driver know.” I have no doubt she’ll be with Alistair Pembroke. I’m feeling relieved to be alone. He’s not the first man she spent the night with. He can keep her if he wants her.
I think it’s time to cut her loose. This is not working for me anymore. It’s good to end things while we’re still amiable. I just have to find a way to do it without her going crazy.
Maybe I can sweeten her up with an expensive parting gift. She loves expensive gifts.
I call myself a cab and drop a few extra hundred dollar notes on the table to make up for Helen’s rudeness to our server tonight.
Home is a 5000 sqft penthouse with a 15-foot ceiling and a perfect view of the Pacific ocean. I never stay in one place for long, so this is just a temporary home.
I’m the Royal liaison between the palace and the rest of the world. I have my team but I prefer to do certain things myself. I had been sent to solve conflicts between packs, delivering confidential messages from the King to other leaders like tonight, and vice versa. Anything to do with Royal matters. All around the world.
On the way to the bar, I take off my jacket, loosen my bow tie and undo a few top buttons before I remove the cufflinks and roll up the sleeves of my dress shirt up to my elbow. I pour myself a drink, then walk over to the sofa and open up my laptop to work.
The phone buzzes in my pocket and I fish it out to look at the screen. It’s one of my buddies, one of the trusted few, Louis deVauquelin. Last time I heard, he was in Ibiza.
“Gideon. Where are you, man?”
“Louis,” I answer. “I’m in L.A. Where are you?”
“I’m still in Ibiza but I’m done working here.”
I bring my pocketwatch out and flip it open. It’s almost midnight, that means it’s almost nine in the morning there.
I let out a snicker. Working? “Partying, you mean. When are you done partying?”
He chuckles. “Well, not all of us are hard at work 24/7 like you. Some of us like to do something that’s called...uh, living?”
“I enjoy my work.”
“Yeah, yeah...so you keep saying, but L.A. sounds good this time of the year, I’ll come visit you,” he says.
“No, don’t bother. I’ll be leaving L.A. soon. Maybe you can meet me in Lisbon in a few days?” I have some business to attend to and a meeting with a few pack leaders there.
“Sounds great. Let me know when you’re leaving L.A.,” he says before he hangs up.
“Is that what you’re wearing for dinner?” asks mom, inspecting my ripped jeans and a big green sweater. The sweater has the face of a smiling cow with big googly eyes and the word “Got Milk?” on it. There are some evil looking ducks and some chickens too.
“What? It’s adorable!” I defend my sweater. Okay, it’s ugly...but she doesn’t need to know what I really think of it.
Her eyes bulge. “No. I want you to get changed now, Layla.”
“Ugh, mom!” I stomp to my closet. I’m 22 but my mom still treats me like a little kid. It’s sad, really.
“Nope! Not another ugly sweater,” says mom when my hand lands on a grey hoodie that used to be my brother’s. “Here, wear this,” she says, taking matters into her own hands. She hands me a light pink dress that I wore just once before.
Reluctantly I take it and she leaves my room. Gah! I can’t win.
I’ve moved out of the house to live among humans a year ago. It’s about half an hour away from the pack territory but almost every weekend, they would guilt-trip me into coming back to have family dinner with them. Maybe I should have moved further.
I do love my family but their meddling in my life is getting out of hand.
Right after I’m done changing, she barges back into my bedroom. See what I mean?
“Now sit down, Layla.” She pulls out a chair facing the vanity for me. I try not to roll my eyes as I take my seat.
“You’re a beautiful girl, sweetie. Why do you have to hide it like that?” We both stare at our reflections in the mirror. I don’t look much like my mom. My mom is a human and my dad is a werewolf. “You’re lucky to have the beautiful were-gene,” she says.
I want to tell her that I don’t have a werewolf gene. I’m a human...just like her. The only difference is she has a mate who loves her. I don’t.
Identical light hazel eyes, the only feature that I inherited from my mom stare back at me but I don’t say a word.
She scrunches my wild, brown, curly hair and shakes her head. Then she works on piling it up into a loose bun on top of my head. She only lets me go after she’s satisfied with my appearance.
“Grandma, your seat is right there.” I try to “gently” push my grandma to sit at her usual chair. Now she’s sitting in my chair which means I have to sit on the only available chair next to the guy they’re setting me up with, Kofi - the reason why I’d been working extra hard to look ugly for.
She refuses to budge. “Ouch, my hip. I don’t think I can get up now. I swear, I might need a new hip soon. Now, what was that, Layla dear?”
I’m trying not to murder my 87-year-old grandma - my mom’s mom. She’s been living with us after my grandpa died ten years ago. She’s also a crafty old lady who is actually as fit as a fiddle but shamelessly pretends to suffer from every ailment known to man to get her way.
Sitting at the dinner table tonight is my dad, my mom, my grandma, my younger sister, Maya, and her newly found mate, Abraham, my older brother, Kaleb, his mate, Carmen, and Kofi.
I sigh and admit defeat. I walk to the other side of the table and sit next to Kofi. Kofi is my older brother’s friend who lost his mate ten years ago. He’s almost a permanent fixture in this house every weekend because they think that he’s perfect for me.
“You look beautiful tonight, Layla,” says my brother’s mate, Carmen. “Don’t you think she looks beautiful, Kofi?”
I suppress a groan. Oh, god, help me.
“She always looks beautiful,” replies Kofi with a big smile. That comment receives a beaming smile from my mom and Carmen. There’s nothing really wrong with Kofi. I guess he could be very sweet but I’m just not feeling it.
I was born without a wolf, unlike my two siblings. Not having a wolf means, there is a big chance that I don’t have a mate like they do. Ever since my younger sister, Maya found her mate seven months ago, they’ve doubled their effort to set me up with some guys, especially Kofi. The torture is real.
“Oh, how sweet,” coos grandma. I send her a glare but she continues, “You two would make beautiful babies together.” Shoot me! Just shoot me now! "Didn't I tell you that I want at least ten grandkids?"
I know they all pity me but I think Grandma is joining in the fun just to torture me.
Even my grandma has a boyfriend. Yep, that’s right, my grandma’s getting more action than I do. I, a 22-year old woman is getting less action than her 87-year old grandmother. How sad is that?
My sister is holding hands with Abraham, talking softly and giggling. This reminds me of why I chose to move out. Pretty soon, my mom and my dad will be whispering to each other, Kaleb and Carmen will be acting all cute. It’s PDA central. The only thing that could make this better is grandma bringing around her boyfriend for dinner next time and start acting the same way. Arrghhh!!! The image of that sears my brain.
“Layla,” says Kofi, taking my hand in his. “You really do look pretty. I appreciate the effort you make to look extra pretty for me tonight.” Oh, no...