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Miren Lynch dropped her foot into the murky bayou water, deep enough that the leather cord she wore around her ankle, decorated with alligator and snakes’ teeth, dipped below the surface. Then she circled her fingers above the water.
“Water demons, lurkers from the deep,
Keep venom and teeth on your banks.
Have no fear we will disturb.
For your mercy, we’ll give the Goddess thanks,
In your name.
As I will it, so mote it be.”
She ended the spell with a splash of her foot, smiling as her sisters leaned back on their arms and churned the water with their feet like children.
“You know Ethan would have a cow if he knew what we were doing,” Miren said, glancing sideways at Bryn.
Bryn wrinkled her nose but otherwise showed no concern. She wasn’t afraid of her husband. He might be a big bad troll, but with Bryn, who was now four months pregnant with a lovely baby bump, Ethan was doting. She shrugged and winked a silvery-gray eye. “What’s he gonna do? Spank me?”
The rest of the sister witches giggled at the thought. When Ethan was around, Bryn rarely even walked. He’d made it a habit of scooping her up into his arms to deposit her in a chair or a bed, whichever best served his immediate purpose.
But the women’s enforced seclusion at Beaux Rêve Inn, however well-intended, was beginning to wear. Although it was October and the mornings were becoming nippy, the afternoons were still quite sultry in their little bayou town. Today, they’d snuck away from Bryn’s bed and breakfast and Ethan’s overdeveloped protective streak to enjoy the last of the warm weather. They sat on a concrete barge tethered to the end of the boat dock, bare feet dangling in the bayou.
Miren suppressed a twinge of jealousy at her sister’s good fortune—a devoted husband, a baby on the way. And she wasn’t alone in her envy. All the witches were growing restless. Surrounded by the most handsome specimens of otherworld masculinity, they had their choice of mates. But none of them had committed. The problem, they all agreed, was that there were too many juicy choices. And there was the lingering fear, one not misplaced, that once the women made their choices and were claimed, everything they’d worked so hard to build would be gone. Demons would be demons, no matter how playful or polite. In the natural order of things, demons ruled their witch mates and syphoned off power for their own gain.
Thus far, Ethan had proved himself a man of his word. But he was a troll, and likely grateful Bryn had overlooked his low status to marry him. Already the most physically powerful among demon kind, he had less need of Bryn’s gifts.
Darcy tossed her red mane of thick curly hair and cast a sideways glance around the small coven. “It’s silly the way they keep us penned up. We won the battle. The council has backed away. Hell, they banished us, giving us our freedom from their rule. Don’t you think it’s time for us all to move back to our own homes?”
“Ethan’s still worried that so many unclaimed witches will draw the wrong element here. Or that your many beaus will fight.” Bryn kicked her feet in the water, the corners of her mouth pulling downward. “Besides, I’ve enjoyed having everyone under foot.”
“That’s because you’re in nesting mode,” Darcy said, rolling her eyes. “It’s understandable, and it has been nice to share this time with you. But we all have businesses to run. I think it’s time. Besides, you’ll never be able to rent out your rooms while we’re occupying them.”
“Ethan and his men pitch in with expenses. They’ve more than covered the rent and the groceries.”
“I, for one,” Aoife said with a sly glance at Bryn, “would love a good night’s sleep without wondering if the walls are going to crash around us.”
“Aoife!” Bryn said, a blush spilling across her cheeks. “The earth moved just the once when he claimed me.” Her gaze swept the group, and then she bit her lower lip. “Have we really been that noisy?”
Radha sniffed, her dark brows arching over twinkling brown eyes. “There’s not a man or woman in the house who can’t count the number of nightly orgasms he gives you.”
The women shared another look and then erupted in laughter.
“Gone for an hour and look at the mischief you’ve gotten yourselves into.”
The deep rumbling voice behind them made them all jump guiltily.
Bryn glanced over her shoulder and gave her husband a dazzling smile.
Miren looked back as well, wincing at Ethan’s dark frown and the fists settled on his narrow hips. Behind him stood Renner, his smile tight, no doubt waiting for the fireworks to explode.
A muscle jumped along Ethan’s square jaw. “My men have been scouring the house and garden for all of you. How did you sneak past them?” His gaze went to Bryn, who shrugged and looked away. Then he scanned the rest of the sisters.
Miren lifted her hand and glanced down at it, pretending to inspect her nails as though her heart wasn’t thudding hard against her chest. They’d broken the rules meant for their protection. Something Ethan took very seriously. “I may have conjured a little cloaking spell. We walked right past Kahn and Sigurd.”
“Feet out of the water,” he said, his voice pitched lower.
Goddess, if she didn’t know the man was a gooey marshmallow inside, she’d be trembling. But they all knew he’d do nothing to upset Bryn in her delicate state.
“Ethan, we were bored. And Miren cast a warding spell to protect us from snakes and gators. We were never in any danger,” Bryn said, her voice soft, the tone meant to soothe his savage beast.
“Snakes and gators are the least of your worries,” Ethan gritted out, his nostrils flaring and his dark gaze raking Bryn’s curvy frame.
Miren crimped her lips together. She caught sight of Darcy’s bold grin and shook her head. They both knew where this was leading, and none of them was in any danger. But their little dip was over. Their guardians were gathering behind Ethan and Renner, ready to swoop in and escort them back to the house. The last thing she and her sisters should do was incite any of the other males. The testosterone and pheromones already wafting in the air was making her entire body tighten with want.
Resistance on their part would be its own form of flirting, intended or not. And the consequences…
“All right,” Miren grumbled, giving the water one last splash before rising. She took her time shaking out her long skirt and smoothing the sides, gathering her pride before raising her gaze. But Renner had moved in front of her, and his expression drew her up short, made her breath hitch.
His eyes blazed with heat—out of character and contrary to his water aspect. Like her, his ruling element was water, his moods ruled by the moon and sea. Usually easygoing, the angry passion he displayed now stirred an answering heat inside her.
Ruthlessly, she tamped it down. He was a sea-draugr—a creature as unsuited for marriage to a witch as…well…as a troll. The thought lapped like a warm wave over her, and she swayed.
Renner stepped forward and reached out, clamping his large hand around her wrist and tugging her toward him. “I’ll assume you were the instigator.”
She raised her chin and pouted her lips. “And if I was? Are you going to make me do a perp walk back to the house?”
His sea-blue eyes narrowed, growing cold as Arctic ice. A look she’d only seen once, when the men had prepared for battle against the creatures the council had gathered to defeat them. She remembered how he’d looked then, his naked body gleaming with the pearl-like luster of the witches’ shared magic. Although she’d been afraid they’d all die on that field, she hadn’t been able to deny her attraction. Renner wasn’t burly like Bryn’s troll. The tall draugr was broad-shouldered, his arms knotted with lovely muscles, his belly a study in swells and hollows that left her mouth dry.
She shook her head to rid herself of the vision of his naked perfection. The fact they’d all gathered nude in the field had been necessary as the witches had drawn down the power of the blue moon to cloak them all in magical armor, infusing the men’s already powerful frames with a little added advantage.
She recalled how she’d brushed her hands over his chest and abdomen, letting the magic flow from her fingertips to his skin, how his arousal, a natural byproduct of the infusion, had caused his cock to thicken and rise. All the men had been left in similar states, but only his cock had given her pause, because, in that moment, she’d wanted him.
A resurgence of that need made her body soften, her nipples tingle. It was a damn good thing Renner wasn’t even looking at her.
He pulled her behind him, stalking down the dock, but she dug in her heels. A mistake, she realized, the moment a splinter from the rough planks stabbed the sole of one foot. “Stop, Renner,” she said, tugging on his hand.
He aimed a glare over his shoulder and then raked her with a glance, his gaze stopping on the foot she held up from the dock.
With an irritated huff, he bent and swept her into his arms.
She grabbed for his shoulders, a thrill sending her blood hammering. She glanced behind her as her sisters watched, their mouths hanging open. Miren was the most resistant to male attention, the least romantic. She could almost read their minds.
And then they all began to grin and Miren lifted a hand, giving them the finger behind Renner’s back. Laughter rang out but was quickly subdued as more of Ethan’s and Renner’s men descended upon the women.
Renner jostled her in his arms and then squeezed her. “There are alligators all along the bank. They could have mistaken all that splashing for fish in distress.”
“I cast a warding spell.”
“You think you have a spell for everything, don’t you?”
He sounded so surly she grew worried. Renner rarely displayed irritation, and never anger. Most often, his sly humor was all that was evident. Something that irked the living hell out of her because she suspected his humor was a deflection to keep hidden what was really there inside him.
She should have known that with a troll for a best friend, he’d be an ogre under his blond good looks. “We didn’t escape just to piss you off. We’re restless. Freaking bored.”
“And you think we aren’t restless, aren’t fucking frustrated as hell?” His footsteps were getting heavier. Hell, he was stomping toward the porch now. “There are twenty of us and four of you, as yet, unclaimed. Choose already.”
“And who do you think I should choose?”
Renner halted at the bottom of the inn’s steps to stare down at her. A muscle rippled in his cheeks. His aqua eyes gleamed. “Choose me, Miren.”