I walked into my place expecting some peace and quiet. After a long day of work, of dealing with problematic client after problematic client, I wanted to take a long hot bath and pretend I didn’t have to go back tomorrow.
Well, I guess I didn’t have to go back tomorrow. While my day job paid well enough—people threw money at accountants just so they didn’t have to learn math—I didn’t have much need for money anymore. My extra work, the stuff I did that normal humans knew nothing about, had padded my bank accounts well enough that I’d paid off my house, all my debt and still had enough to never need to work again.
Something about going in each day made me feel better, as if I still had a life that had nothing to do with vampires and werewolves and the supernatural world.
And that life had me crunching numbers and getting yelled at by a boss who hated me. And why did she hate me?
The loud noises coming from my house answered that.
As it turned out, little Miss Bible Thumper, also known as Mrs. Lee, my boss, had caught a glimpse of me at dinner one night, and she did not approve of my four dinner companions.
I sighed as I opened my front door to find those very men treating my living room like their own little clubhouse.
Which annoyed me beyond words.
“Welcome home,” Hunter said, catching my waist in his large hand before he tugged me closer and took my lips in a kiss that was nearly good enough for me to forgive him for whatever he’d done to piss me off.
Then again, Hunter had always managed to catch me off guard and make it hard to hate him for long. His hair was still long, and the tattoos that swirled over him shifted as if to welcome me home as well.
He tugged my shirt from my pants, slipping his fingers beneath to touch my bare skin. Despite me standing in an open doorway, fully visible from the street, I knew damn well that he’d have no issue having sex with me right here and now.
Which made me set my hand on his chest and shove him back a few steps. One of us had to be the responsible one and, somehow, it was always me.
He smirked as if he knew exactly what I was thinking and wasn’t the least bit sorry about it.
“Don’t you all have a place of your own?” I asked.
Hunter gestured behind him and into the main area of the living room where the other three were. “You were working late, and we got lonely.”
“What are you, kids?”
“If you want to play that game, I can,” Hunter said, dropping his voice low into the one he used when he talked me into all sorts of things that made my cheeks burn.
Instead of giving in to him—especially because I knew Hunter well enough to know he’d toy with me just as long as I allowed it—I walked past him toward the others.
Grant sat in the large recliner, his feet up and on the coffee table, his phone in his hands as he seemed to try hard to ignore the other two, who were—surprise, surprise!—arguing.
Kase and Troy stood nose to nose, somehow able to radiate the same level of threat while looking and behaving so differently.
Kase managed to appear unruffled by the whole thing. He wore a pair of black slacks and a white button-up shirt, though he had no tie. I’d bet he’d gotten rid of it when he’d arrived, and even undone the top button. It made him appear slightly more casual and was a side of him I usually adored. Even though he yelled at Troy, he still looked as if he cared little about the results.
Troy, on the other hand, had his lips pulled back as if flashing his teeth in response. He wore a pair of slacks and a white button-up shirt as well, but he looked entirely different. He had on a pair of light gray pants, and his shirt was undone at the cuffs and rolled up to show off his forearms. He managed to look wilder and less civilized despite the dressy clothing.
Of course, I knew what was beneath the two of them, the part of them that they hid from most of the world.
It made me almost laugh as I considered exactly how I’d gotten here.
Five years ago, I would have never figured I’d be here, watching a vampire and a werewolf argue in my living room while a mage played on his phone to ignore it and a hellhound sexually harassed me at my front door.
Somehow, no matter how many tarot spreads I’d pulled, the cards had never once mentioned any of this bullshit.
“You know she is at risk,” Kase said, seeming to have taken no notice of me. “You can’t just take her out like that without security.”
“I’m more than capable of protecting her,” Troy snapped back.
“You are one little lone wolf. She should have my guards watching her.”
“Sure,” Grant said from his spot on the chair without raising his gaze from his phone. “If you want those guards harassed until they quit because they don’t want to deal with her. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what happened when I tried to give her an assistant.”
Rude. I hadn’t treated the assistant badly!
Well, there was the time I snuck out of a window when they’d tried to get me to go dress shopping for a party, or the time I turned into a reaper just to escape a boring meeting they’d set up for me without my agreement.
Still, I’d told Grant I didn’t need a personal assistant, especially one who had zero understanding of personal space or privacy.
“She is still a target,” Kase pressed. “She is more of a target now than ever. As more of the supernatural world discovers her true parentage and what she is, more people will try to take advantage of her.”
“So what, you want me to force her to have guards when she doesn’t want them? Or never go anywhere with her? You want to lock her up and never let her out just so you can sleep well at night?”
“If it keeps her safe? I’ll do what is necessary.”
“Yeah, well, let’s skip the bondage, huh?” I walked the rest of the way into the living room, drawing the attention of all three.
Grant’s smile made me suspect he’d known I was there the whole time. Troy and Kase managed to look like kids who expected a scolding from their parent after being caught fighting.
“You work much too late,” Kase said, rebounding from the surprise quicker than Troy. “Have I not told you that if you work so late, you should contact me for an escort home?”
“I don’t need an escort.”
“Far worse things travel at night. It isn’t safe.”
I set my hands on my hips, leveling him a glare that would send a lot of others running. “I’m a reaper, Kase. I can handle a vampire or two if they want to try anything.”
“You are half reaper. You are still vulnerable in your human form, and we have no idea what might happen to you should you be attacked suddenly and unable to take your other form. In fact, there are many things about your powers and weaknesses we do not yet know.”
I rubbed my temples, frustration eating away at me from the conversation we had had many times already. I didn’t mind fighting if anything came of it, but nothing ever did on this topic.
I understood Kase’s feelings, knew he worried because he cared—that they all did—but I couldn’t allow my life to get taken over by him or anyone else. I was way too old and too stubborn for that.
I loved them all, but I was well past the age where I needed some prince to rescue me.
“Why are you all here? I’ve had a very long day, and I don’t love coming home to fighting.”
“We weren’t fighting,” Troy said, then pressed his lips together when he realized there was no way that would fly. After a long moment, he sighed out a soft, “Sorry.”
“It isn’t just today—it’s always like this. You guys are always at one another’s throats, always bickering, always pushing one another. Why?”
“Because we’re men?” Grant said as though that were the obvious answer. At my glare, he shrugged. “It’s true. You’ve got four immortal men here, each of which is used to getting his own way. You really think the four of us can just be all buddy-buddy just because we’re all sleeping with you?”
I opened my mouth, but no sound escaped.
He wasn’t wrong. The old fear that I’d held since this whole thing started remained in the back of my head.
I’d thought for a while that we’d reached some understanding between us. We’d faced off against Lucifer, had gone to hell, to purgatory, had fought Lilith together and survived and for a while it had seemed as if we’d found some common ground.
Yet, in the time since then, since we’d won and had settled into our new normal lives, they had grown more and more hostile toward one another.
Kase and Troy were the worst—no doubt about that—but they all had their own issues. Hunter didn’t understand appropriateness at all, and since he’d spent most of his life in hell, he was fantastic at making things weird. That rubbed both Troy and Kase wrong. Grant’s sense of humor annoyed Troy, and Troy’s black-and-white thinking didn’t sit well with Grant.
Of course, beyond that, Kase and Troy had the whole feeding thing between them. Kase could now only drink werewolf blood, which bound the two of them together, but it hadn’t fixed the way they interacted at all. If anything, they seemed more antagonistic toward each other.
Basically? If it wasn’t for me, the four of them would never willingly spend any time with one another, and none of them were happy with the idea of only seeing me one at a time since that wouldn’t be enough time for them.
I shook my head, unable to figure out something I could do to make it better. “I’m going to go take a bath.” I jammed my finger at Hunter before he could say anything. “Alone. Let yourselves out whenever you want.”
Someone caught my wrist, and I turned to find Troy holding me. He was usually the first to cave when it came to me, the first to give in and try to make things better. He also was the one who hated when I walked away from them. “You look sad.”
“I’m just tired. Our lives are dangerous enough—we have enough things to deal with. I don’t want this stress in our personal lives. I don’t like the way you all seem to want to one-up one another, how you’re always competing, always fighting for some top spot like there’s a hierarchy. There isn’t one! I love all of you, and I thought we’d finally figured this out.” I shuddered, hating having to put this on them.
It felt entirely unfair, like I was spoiled and wanted everything all my way. I didn’t want to pick just one man—I wanted them all. I also wanted them all to be fine with that arrangement.
Troy still didn’t release me, his hand warm and solid, just like he always was. “I’m sorry.”
“That makes it worse. I know you’re sorry. I know you all love me, too. I just don’t know how to make it better, how to fix this so you can just accept one another and this and all of it. Maybe you can’t? Maybe I was an idiot for thinking this would work.” Just saying that made my chest hurt.
It was like admitting something I hadn’t ever allowed myself to think about.
What if we couldn’t make this work? What if, after finally finding the men I loved, they decided this was too hard? That it wasn’t worth it? I couldn’t blame them for it, couldn’t get angry or fault them for deciding it was all too much, but that wouldn’t change that it would crush me.
This was the first time I’d put that fear into words, that I said out loud that we might not make it.
Which felt totally unfair. I’d beaten the bad guy! I’d done the impossible and come out on top and alive. I was supposed to get my happily-ever-after now, wasn’t I?
But I knew better than most that life didn’t go the way we wanted it to, and people often didn’t get what they deserved—whether for good or bad.
“Ava…” Kase said, his voice tense and unsure.
I forced a smile that I didn’t feel to stop tears from falling. “I’m just tired. I’m going to go bathe and change—I ordered food already, so don’t kill the delivery man when he gets here.” I tugged my hand away from Troy, the loss of his warmth making me feel impossibly colder and more alone.
I didn’t look at any of them again as I went up the stairs, trying to look strong, to not let them see just how afraid I was that I’d end up losing everything I’d worked so hard to save.