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Secrets at Midnight

By´╝ÜNalini Singh

CHAPTER 1





Bastien Smith knew he’d been suckered. By his own mother no less. The only thing that might make it bearable was if Sage had been suckered, too. “Tell me you didn’t know,” he said to his younger brother through gritted teeth, both of them propping up the wall nearest the door and an escape they couldn’t make.

Eyes narrowing, Sage folded his arms. “Are you accusing me of breaking the bro code?”

Bastien shoved a hand through his hair, the dark red strands no doubt a mess by now. “Sorry.” It was only right he apologize after suspecting Sage of something so heinous, even if it had resulted from sheer exhausted frustration. “Mom told me she needed help setting up.”

“Technically, she did.” Sage nodded toward the heavy dining table their mother had asked the two of them to shift into the large living area of the home where they’d both grown up. It fit, plenty of space around it for their mother’s guests to mingle, only because Bastien and Sage had first hauled the usual living room furniture into other rooms of the house.

It hadn’t taken long, both of them happy to help their mom prepare for the “book club luncheon” she’d been looking forward to all week. What she’d neglected to mention was that all her book club buddies were bringing along their nubile daughters, nieces, neighbors, and any other random young female they could corral into this excruciating exercise.

Normally, Bastien would’ve groaned, then sucked it up. He loved his mother, would never hurt her. But normally, he wasn’t strung out from two solid weeks of sleepless nights . . . because he didn’t want just any woman. He wanted her, the woman he knew in his gut was his mate, but who, against all known laws of changeling mating, he couldn’t find.

He’d first tasted the scent of his elusive lover on a street in Chinatown fourteen days, eight hours, and seventeen minutes ago, the scent igniting a possessiveness in him that was as feral as it was joyous. Yes, he’d thought, yes, and turned to follow the scent that spoke to him in a way nothing else ever had . . . only for it to dissipate into intangible mist even his changeling-acute senses couldn’t pierce.

Refusing to believe he’d lost her, he’d spent hours searching the area, day fading into darkest midnight, until he’d finally had to go home empty-handed, his soul craving the touch of hers. The leopard inside his skin had clawed him awake only hours later, certain she was just beyond his reach, hurt and in pain. Torn apart at the idea that he wasn’t there when his mate needed him, he’d immediately gone out again.

Dawn had come on a smudge of light that grew steadily brighter, bringing with it hundreds of people of every size and shape and hue, but not her.

The rest of the world might be in the grip of a tense silence as they waited to see if the days-old historic change in the lives of the Psy, the psychic race that shared the planet with changelings and humans, would spill out into new violence, but Bastien cared only about finding her.

He’d repeated the pattern from that first night every night since, prowling the empty and fog-shrouded city streets in his leopard form long after its other residents found their beds. He’d discarded thousands of trails, sensed myriad secrets, and three or four times, he’d caught the wild, sweet, utterly unique and just as intoxicating scent that was hers, but it never lasted. Not as a scent should last. It faded out with impossible abruptness in the middle of a narrow pathway between buildings, or halfway down a flight of stairs—places where she couldn’t have gone anywhere unless she had wings.

The idea that she might be an aerial changeling, perhaps part of the falcon wing with which Bastien’s pack had an alliance, would’ve been an answer that gave him a way to find her, but there was a feline undertone to her scent that told him he was stalking a fellow cat changeling.

One who was there one instant, gone the next.

Always when the changeling scent ended, he caught a softer one below it that also awakened his most primal instincts. Despite the fact he knew a changeling male couldn’t have that kind of a visceral reaction to two different women, he’d followed that scent, too—only it was too gentle, too easily lost among the bitter odors of coffee and spice outside a restaurant, or the overpowering aromas that poured from a beauty parlor, the city a kaleidoscope to his senses.

In truth, both scents were less intense than they should be. The only reason he could track the feline one longer was that it had a bitingly primal edge to it that made it stand out even amid the other changeling scents in the city.

It was starting to drive him to madness.

“I didn’t even get a bite of the brownies.” Sage’s mournful voice broke into his thoughts, his brother’s gaze on the table groaning with food on the other side of the wall of female flesh. “I was just about to grab one when they began arriving, and I tried to bolt out the back door.”

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