FRIDAY ROLLED around and brought with it a rather heated argument between him and Austin. Since Austin had reacted so negatively to the idea of a spider shifter, he’d suggested Austin skip the meeting.
Kage wasn’t fond of the idea since there were hunters in San DeLain, but Austin should be safe enough at home, especially if he left Maia there.
Austin had suggested Kage check himself. Sometimes current slang baffled Kage, but he understood Austin clearly—Austin was coming with Kage.
Once they were dressed, they went downstairs. Kage took his cell phone out and sent a text message to Denisha and Maia. Both of them would be attending this meeting with him.
“Is there anything I need to know before we get there? Any rules or protocol I need to know when dealing with the other paranormals there?” Austin asked.
“For you, no.”
“What do you mean, ‘for you’?”
“Only that you’ll still be considered human by many there, even though we’re mated and you take my blood. Which, technically, is stupid since you are mated to me and you do have my blood in you. But you’re not born or turned.”
“Why do I have the feeling that I’m at the bottom of the food chain?”
“Just be yourself, babe.” Then Kage paused. “And maybe not wander off by yourself. There’s going to be a lot of people there with massive egos.”
Austin rubbed his hands over his face. “Great.”
They took the elevator to Kage’s private garage where Denisha and Maia were waiting next to one of the black armored SUVs. Maia drove them there, and Denisha sat up front with her while Kage was in the back with Austin.
Beau Monde was like any other ridiculously expensive restaurant in San DeLain—lots of windows, great location, and elegance that bordered on ostentatious.
The dark woods and low lighting, along with fireplaces, ocean views, and splurge-worthy meals gave the place a romantic feel. There were limos, sports cars, and SUVs parked all along the street. Maia got as close as she could and parked.
Austin reached for the door handle.
Kage rested his hand on Austin’s knee. “Wait.”
“Let Denisha open the door.”
“Because, trust me, there are many eyes on us, and appearances are everything, especially dealing with powerful paranormals. Also, let Maia make sure the coast is clear.”
“I feel like I’m in a bad mafia movie.”
Kage snorted. “Just like with the human mafia, swagger is everything in our world.”
Denisha opened the passenger door for them. As soon as they stepped out, Kage buttoned his jacket as he waited on Austin to join him. He made sure to wipe all amusement and affection from his face, leaving only haughty indifference.
To the outside world, he was Elder Kage Dargan, leader of the daemons of San DeLain clan. Maia and Denisha also wore the same expression.
Then Austin stepped out.
Kage barely suppressed his grimace. No haughty indifference there. A blind person could see the purity and goodness in Austin. Kage was fully aware there were certain paranormals inside that restaurant who’d want to corrupt such loveliness… or terrorize it.
Fuck him running. Before the night was through, someone was going to step out of line and end up in the middle of Antarctica, weren’t they?
Resting his hand on the small of Austin’s back, they followed Denisha inside. Maia brought up the rear. Isadora had darkened the smart windows for privacy. Round tables were set up for the paranormal leaders of San DeLain.
One of the two werewolf packs was already in attendance. Kage tentatively used the mind link he shared with Austin. Austin?
Austin jerked slightly as they walked but didn’t react otherwise. Holy moly, that never gets old! What’s up?
I thought I would give you a who’s who.
See the lovely Asian lady? She’s the alpha of the Cross River pack. Their territory is located on the eastern side of San DeLain. I’ve never met the alpha, but I’ve heard good things about her.
The alpha is a woman?
They were considered a progressive pack, especially since their alpha was female. Alpha Li Li Kim and her mate, Jerome Benton, were already seated. Two wolves were with them. Kage assumed they were the alpha’s enforcers. All of them were dressed in suits.
Kage didn’t see anyone at a table for the Crimson Fangs pack, and he breathed a sigh of relief. If anyone was going to cause trouble, it would be them. They were considered nothing more than thugs by the San DeLain paranormal community. Their territory was to the south of the city.
See the man with long black hair that’s parted in the middle?
That’s the Master of the City, Raven St. Clair. He took over the position about one hundred years ago. He’s based downtown—not far from us, actually. He’s a vampire.
Whoa. A vamp!
Master Raven was hard to miss since he and his three vampires looked as if they were attending a goth/Victorian/steampunk ball. As far as Kage knew, Raven was not mated.
Kage was actually surprised to see someone sitting at the table reserved for the gargoyles. They rarely interacted with other paranormals. Okay, see the two men sitting alone at a table? They’re gargoyles.
Oh my God, gargoyles?
Yes, babe. The slender one is their king. His name is King Hereward Tywyll. I don’t know who that big brute of a gargoyle is with him. Probably protection. They lived north of the city, and their land butts up against Hudson’s. Both dragons and gargoyles like the mountains.
Finally, there were the merfolk, who again, Kage was surprised to see in attendance. Generally speaking, mers did not concern themselves with the matters of land dwellers, but the hunters had kidnapped mers too, so this did directly affect them.
See the guy with long blond hair? That’s Fenton Moss. He’s the current chieftain of the Golden Reef colony. He’s a merman. I don’t know who the other three.
Holy moly, merpeople! This is every paranormal author’s dream, you know that, right?
The mers territory was located in the ocean, which was west of the city. A mer community was called a colony, and was led by a merchieftain or merchieftainess.
Is this everyone?
It’s everyone who agreed to meet. There’s a witch’s coven in San DeLain, but they claim they’re not in the targeted group, so they refused to get involved. Which is stupid and short-sighted. Hunters kill witches too because they aren’t human.
There was only one more empty table, and that had a place card with Kage’s last name on it. Denisha led them to their table. Sure enough, several heads turned as they made their way. One or two paranormals lifted their head and inhaled as they passed—they were sniffing Austin.
As much as it annoyed him, it wasn’t an unusual reaction, especially since Austin was the only one there who wasn’t fully paranormal. Still, he was tempted to bear his teeth at them.
Right next to them was the Fire Court. The dragons were all dressed in black leather pants, black knee-high boots, and black shirts. Hudson’s hair was left long, except for the one single braid beside his face.
Once they were seated, a waiter brought them each a glass of water then disappeared.
Kage‘s gaze swept the room. He made eye contact with the dominant personality of each group. Each one of them returned his gaze steadily. As a leader, no one could afford to be seen as weak. Or scared.
Every last paranormal in that room might be uncomfortable around him simply because of who Kage was, but they also wouldn’t back down. Like he’d told Austin earlier, there was a whole lot of egos in that room.
“We seem to be missing a group,” Maia said, nodding her head toward the empty table.
“Just as well,” Kage said. “We don’t need the chaos they’d bring.”
“Who are we missing?” Austin asked, glancing at the empty table.
“Crimson Fangs pack,” Kage answered. He picked up his water, took a sip, and then set it down. “They are—”
“Thugs,” Denisha said, scowling. “The make their money by selling drugs and running guns. And that’s just what we know of. They’re probably into more stuff. They’re a werewolf pack, but they act more like a gang.”
“More like a biker gang, but instead of humans running it, it’s wolves,” Maia added. “They’re one of the two packs based in San DeLain, and they are trouble.”
“Gotcha,” Austin said.
Through the mating bond Kage could sense that Austin was a little self-conscious with the attention focused on him, but he didn’t seem overly nervous.
In fact, Kage could see the curiosity shining in Austin’s eyes as he looked around. His lovely mate’s inquisitive nature was beginning to peek out.