“And then he said he hadn’t seen a Peacock that night…” Movement at the door catches Jonathan’s attention, and he swears under his breath instead of finishing his sentence. “Aw, crap, Eric. She’s hot.”
It might sound like my fellow knight marshal is complimenting the new member of our team as she walks through the door of the grimy biker bar with our team leader, but he’s not. In fact, Jonathan says the words with the same tone a person uses when they open their mailbox and find a jury duty notice lying on top of the pile.
We knew Madeline was a woman—the name gave it away. But Gray forgot to mention she was five and a half feet of trouble in a miniskirt. She’s young, probably in her early twenties, with blond hair and an air about her that screams “off limits.”
“Dibs,” I say, grinning at the pair as they make their way to the table.
“Please,” Jonathan mutters under his breath. “You know that one’s already taken.”
“You’re just jealous cause I called it first.”
Madeline scans the bar as Gray leads her to our table, looking slightly repulsed—and who could blame her? Even the flies are complaining about the mess. Okay, they aren’t—but if they were, do you know who would hear about it? That’s right. This guy.
I don’t like interacting with insects, but they don’t much care. And it’s not like they actually talk. It’s just this constant, irritating buzz you get when they’re agitated.
When you’re a Rabbit—part of the Lepus Faction—you get a sense for animals, both big and small. Some are just a little easier to understand than others.
Madeline finally spots us sitting here in the corner, and her face softens as if maybe we’re not bad, at least compared to the other fine gentleman in the dive. One such gentleman scratches his ample belly as she passes him, leering at her and grunting to his friend. Gray shoots them a look, one that wipes the smiles off their faces.
I chuckle under my breath and give Madeline a grin, welcoming her. Her eyes flicker over me, sizing me up. She looks understandably apprehensive. Judging from her clothing, I think it’s safe to assume this isn’t her usual scene.
“You must be Madeline,” I say as I stand, taking her hand in mine. “I’m Eric.”
To my surprise, she returns my smile. “Pleasure,” she says in this finishing school tone that’s just about the sexiest thing around.
I flash Jonathan a smirk when she turns to him, one he doesn’t miss.
“I’m Jonathan,” he says, trying to ignore me. He looks wary of her, which is also understandable. Madeline isn’t the first girl placed on the team, and let’s just say it didn’t go well before. In fact, it went so badly, I’m here. I took that first girl’s place.
After Madeline nods to Jonathan, I step away from the bench and gesture for her to go on ahead. To her credit, she only pauses briefly when she looks at the faded, lumpy upholstery—or more specifically, at the brownish stain on said upholstery. Once she’s settled, I wave at the man at the bar.
“So, Madeline,” Jonathan says after we order our drinks and Gray tells the barman to fetch his boss. “Tell us about yourself. What did you study at Briarwood?”
“Hospitality?” Jonathan parrots, his surprise in sync with mine.
She takes a napkin from the silver holder at the back of the booth and begins to scrub a sticky spot on the table in front of her. “I had hoped to work with the Royal Guild, plan their society dinners. That sort of thing.”
I catch her eye and give her another grin. “And you got stuck with us instead.”
“Something like that.” Her expression softens a little more, making me think I’m making some serious progress.
“Don’t confuse the situation,” Gray says, looking less than pleased to have her here and even less pleased that she’s smiling at me and not him.
“She’s not working with us,” he continues. “Finn made it very clear he has her keeping tabs on us.”
“Heck of an order.” Just to really get Gray’s goat, I give Madeline a wink. “Going to whip us into shape, make us walk a straight line?”
Jonathan leans forward ever so slightly, studying her. “That doesn’t mean she won’t be useful.”
From the look on his face, I can tell he’s reading her magic—or trying to. He looks a little perplexed. “What faction are you associated with?”
“Her mother is a healer, and her father specializes in fire,” Gray answers for her.
“So, which one is it?” Jonathan asks. “Cervidae faction or Draconem?”
“Passeridae,” Madeline answers.
A Sparrow? Finn not only put a girl who majored in hospitality on our team, but he picked one with limited magic?
“She’s lying,” Jonathan says to Gray, earning a shocked look from the girl by my side. He leans forward and says to her, “You’re extremely skilled, and your magic is strong, but I can’t read what it is.”
He can’t read it? What does he mean he can’t read it? He’s a bloody Griffon—it’s what they do. Read magic. And sometimes minds, if they’re good. Which he is.
The two stare at each other, having their own personal showdown, which is, quite frankly, a little disconcerting. Finally, Jonathan sits back. “I’m sure it will come to me eventually.”
Gray’s just opening his mouth, likely about to demand what that was all about, when the owner of the fine establishment decides to grace us with his presence. After sneaking another quick look at our new team member, I turn my attention to the business of arresting the sprite. Hopefully, we can settle this quietly, and preferably before he has a chance to gather his henchmen—AKA, the trees just outside. (And if you’re thinking trees don’t sound like great henchmen, then apparently you’ve never been smacked in the head with a branch.)
But Richard the Tree Sprite does something a little less creative after Gray tells him we have to take him in—he pulls a gun.
* * *
“Hell no,” Jonathan says, crossing his arms. “He’s not leaking blood in the back of the ‘Vette.”
“We’ll wrap him in a tarp.” I jab my thumb toward the trunk of the car. “You still got that one from last time?”
Jonathan gives me a look that’s nothing short of murderous.
Not far away, Madeline snarls into her phone. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but I’m pretty sure she’s done with this knight marshal business. I’m still not sure what Finn was thinking putting her on our team to begin with. One little gunshot and she was under the table.
“Fine,” Jonathan growls at Gray. “But you’re paying for the detailing if he makes a mess.”
Gray agrees and then saunters off to inform Madeline it’s time to go.
A few minutes later, after the unconscious sprite is tucked safe and sound in the back of Jonathan’s trunk, I amble to the passenger side.
Jonathan starts the car, strangely silent, probably still fuming. I leave him to it, checking my phone for texts.
“She’s a Fox,” Jonathan mutters out of the blue.
My head snaps up so fast, I’m lucky I don’t give myself whiplash. “She’s a what?”
He glances at me, and his brow furrows. “She’s a fox. She’s…hot.”
“Oh.” I frown. “I thought you meant she was a Fox. Like faction.” I think about it for a minute, chuckling to myself. “Can you imagine?”
Gray would blow a gasket.
“So you called dibs, huh?” Jonathan asks lightly, staring straight ahead. He’s acting weird, probably because he’s irritated he couldn’t peg her magic.
“You were having an off day,” I say with a shrug. “It happens.”
In fact, I have a scar on my leg to prove off days happen. Stupid bloodthirsty poodles. They’re all insane—every one of them.
“Cause if you’re not actually interested in her…” He grins, choosing to ignore me.
Jonathan’s only messing around about Madeline. I know it. He knows it. The Griffon’s not stupid enough to get involved with a girl on the team. As we all know, that never ends well. Besides…
“Pretty sure Gray has already staked a claim,” I say.
Jonathan rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I noticed.”
We’re quiet for several minutes, but it feels heavy. Like we need to discuss it, no matter how much it sucks.
“You know if you actually wanted her, I’d back off.” I drum my fingers on the center console.
Jonathan looks over, raising an eyebrow. “Are we doing this? What’s with you Bunnies and this inherent need you have to share your feelings? Can’t you go find a Panda to cuddle?”
I laugh it off.
After a moment, Jonathan nods. “Me too, man. The team comes first. Always.”