Akane gasped. She was staring in the window of an art gallery. There, on a black pedestal, surrounded by black velvet, was a silver and brass sculpture. It rose majestically from some sort of crystal base, seeming to float in the air. It swirled and dipped with ballerina-like grace, dainty and feminine despite the masculine medium of metal and glass. She stepped closer to the window, enchanted, almost breathless at the sense of flight the figure exuded. She could see wings quivering in the lines of the piece as if it just waited for a moment, a breath and it would take off, forever free. It spoke of strength, elegance, and a fierce desire to fly.
She wanted it in a way she wanted very little else. The dragoness half of her blood yearned for the piece in a way not even a diehard chocoholic at the window of a Godiva store could comprehend. She glanced down at the card at the base of the statue, wondering who’d created the piece and if she could afford it. When she read the name of the piece she stopped breathing.
Akane, by Shane Joloun. Not For Sale.
“What the hell?” She stomped into the art gallery. Dear gods, she could smell Shane all over the place, his scent rich and earthy and oh so tempting. She grabbed the first person in a suit she caught. “Excuse me, can I speak to the owner please?”
The owner was soon fetched. “My name is Mr. Klaussner. How may I help you?”
There was something odd about the man’s scent. She took a deep breath, nodding to herself when she smelled pooka and something else, something elusive. He was definitely fae, that was certain.
The gallery owner eyed her designer attire and his demeanor changed from simple curiosity to an almost puppyish charm.
“The piece in the window. Who made it?”
The man smiled, all charm. He didn’t even question why she didn’t just read the placard under the piece. Her obvious wealth allowed her some eccentricities. “Shane Joloun, of course. He’s become a famous sculptor in the last five years, and we were thrilled to have a hand in introducing him to the art world.” She nodded, for once speechless. Shane was an artist?
Her eyes strayed back to the sculpture in the window.
He’d named that exquisite piece Akane.
The manager’s voice broke into her thoughts before they could go too far in a direction she really didn’t want them to. “Would you like to see other pieces by him? We were lucky enough to get a shipment, and of course the artist himself was here until just a short while ago, helping us arrange them.”
She followed behind the little man, stunned by what was on display. Shane’s work was, without a doubt, the most stunning she’d ever seen. His sculptures sang, wept, took flight and left you breathless, wanting more. She couldn’t take her eyes off them. Metal, glass and stone were his playthings, and he shaped them into objects that fed her soul and touched her heart. She desperately wanted to reach out, caress them. Own them, so she could look upon them whenever she desired and feel her heart was full.
She pointed to one in particular that spoke to her. It reminded her of a cat on the prowl, but there was something oddly human in the features. Something female. There was a hint of mischief in the way the cat held its tail, a playfulness despite the glittering unsheathed claws. “I want that one.”
“I’m not finished.” She’d spotted another, one she needed for Jaden, her partner and one of Shane’s new brothers-in-law. Three faceless figures writhed in glass flame and metal shadow, backs arched, hands clenched around one another, two bowed over one protectively. What struck her as oddly appropriate was that it wasn’t the smallest figure being protected. To her, that middle figure represented Jaden, and everything he’d thought he’d lost when Duncan had Claimed Moira with a single kiss.
Where others might see only pain in the figures she saw pleasure, and battles overcome. Had Shane created it with his sister and her two bondmates in mind? “And that one.” It was a perfect gift to give to the newly minted lord of Clan Blackthorn and his family. And she bet the one who would appreciate the symbolism the most would be Duncan, Jaden’s bondmate and the former lord of the Malmayne clan.
“Ah. Yes.” Mr. Klaussner signaled to his employee, who placed a Sold placard in front of both pieces.
She reached into her purse and held out her credit card, not surprised when the man’s eyes went wide. It was an extremely rare card, given only to the very wealthy, and Mr. Klaussner’s gaze ate it up before he could shield them. “You say the artist was here until just a short while ago?” When Klaussner nodded she smiled, all innocence. With her small size and big, unusual eyes, she’d gotten more than one man to do what she wanted with just a look. “Is there any chance I could meet with him?”
Klaussner shook his head sadly, the credit card cradled in his fingers. “I’m sorry, Miss—” he glanced down at the card, “—Russo, but Mr. Joloun has already returned to his family estate. I believe he went straight to the airport from here.”
The family estate could mean only one thing. Shane had gone back to Nebraska. “Thank you, Mr. Klaussner.” She smiled again, amused when the man’s cheeks flushed.
“Where may I have the sculptures shipped to, if I may ask?”
Akane rattled off Jade’s address, knowing the vampire wouldn’t mind her using it, especially since one of the pieces was for him. Klaussner barely batted an eye when she said Nebraska, but his shoulders tensed just a hair. Deep inside it pleased her that this man was protective of Shane, even if it was only for the money the artist made the gallery owner.
She thanked Klaussner and stepped back out into the New York evening. Shane was on his way home, and it was time to report in to Robin. She spared one last, wistful glance at the sculpture in the window, her heart staggered once more by its beauty. Could it be that this was the way Shane saw her? Truly?
Her hand was on the cold glass before she realized it, reaching for the beautiful artwork she couldn’t take her eyes off. She snatched her hand back and stepped away, yanking her gaze from the window. She set off briskly, hailing a cab to take her back to her hotel room. She’d need to pack and appraise Robin of Shane’s return to Nebraska quickly, before she found herself back in the art gallery, surrounded once more by Shane. She didn’t think her heart would be able to withstand it if she stayed there even a moment longer.
If she did, it might no longer be hers.
“Sir? You saw?”
Shane stepped out of the shadows and grinned. Her reaction had been even better than he’d hoped for. “I saw. Thanks, Mr. Klaussner.”
“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Joloun.” Klaussner waved at his assistant again, and the man, apparently psychic from what Shane could tell, answered the unspoken command. He began to carefully remove Akane from the window and replaced it with another one of Shane’s sculptures, complete with placard and price. “Shall I have it shipped back to your studio, Mr. Joloun?”
“Please do.” As if Shane would allow Akane to be sent to anyone’s home but his own. This one was special. This one was theirs, and some day Akane would accept it, and the artist, and all that went with them. Until then, until the day he could Claim and Bind his mate to him, Akane would stay with him.
Shane grinned as the assistant wheeled Akane to the back of the gallery and through the storeroom doors. He couldn’t wait.
He thanked the gallery owner and left. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number he’d long since learned by heart. “She’s going home.”
“Good. She saw your sculpture?”
“Yup. And she reacted the way you predicted she would.”
A soft, feminine laugh sounded in his ear. “Did you make her present yet?”
Shane grinned. He’d been working on Akane’s birthday present since the day he met her. “It’s almost complete. I have the final component now. I’ll finish it once I’m back in my studio.”
“Wonderful. I look forward to hearing my daughter’s screams of frustration.”
I look forward to hearing your daughter scream for an entirely different reason. “I’m sure she’ll find many hours of pleasure in it.”
“I’m certain she will as well. Have a good flight, Shane.”
“Thank you, Seer.” Shane hung up and took a deep, happy breath. So far everything was going the way he’d hoped it would. He was allowing little bits and pieces of the real Shane to shine through for his mate, just enough to tease, to tantalize, to keep the dragoness sneaking closer and closer instead of driving her away. Akane had no desire to have a mate, but as far as he was concerned it was already too late.
She had one, and she’d learn to love him whether she wanted to or not. And if she doubted that?
Well. She’d never dealt with a determined Nebraska farm boy before. Akane was in for a rude awakening if she thought for one moment he was ever going to let her get away.