I didn’t know if we had a future, given all we were up against, but I knew he was all I wanted in the present. He was my knight in shining armor even though I didn’t need to be saved. He was a prince, asking me to help him steal his throne.
I chuckled to myself.
Now that was something I could get behind.
“Let’s go shopping,” I said, wondering what I could use instead of my fabulous handbag. I didn’t need to draw notice. “If the worst thing that happens today is finding out a really hot Demigod wants to keep me around, I’d say I’m doing all right.”
“I don’t understand why I have to go with you when Daisy gets to train,” Mordecai whined as we parked in my favorite dual-society zone shopping center. The location wasn’t San Francisco proper, but rather a couple of small towns east, along the ocean and still within the San Francisco Bay Area, where there was a larger allocation of space for big stores. The town had a different and uninterested non-magical mayor than San Francisco proper, and given it was in the dual-society zone, Valens had no interest in it whatsoever. It was why I liked it so much.
“Because Daisy is training in the art of stealth, and you are not,” I said, getting out of the car. Greedy anticipation ran through me. The rectangular piece of plastic burned hot against my upper thigh. I hadn’t even put the credit card in my threadbare wallet, not wanting to soil it. “A large wolf wandering around in the middle of town might be noticed. A teen chick dressed in mundane clothes will not. Hence, here you are, in human form and about to have the time of your life.”
“I doubt it,” he grumbled.
The sea breeze drifted past my nose and a line of stores curved in front of me, beside a dirty sidewalk. Behind me, a couple of stores stood alone with the moderately busy street to the back of them. Busy for the run-down dual-society zone, at any rate.
“Okay.” I adjusted the tweed shopping tote on my forearm, my inconspicuous handbag for the day, before smoothing my hair and straightening my very fine blouse. The guys had decided it wasn’t a great idea for me to go home, where Valens’s people might be watching for me, in order to grab cheap clothes that I wouldn’t be noticed in. For the first time in my life, I’d have to “make do” with overly fine attire. What a strange situation I’d found myself in.
I pressed my key fob and locked my shiny and expensive car before bending to double check that my pants went down past my ankles. “I am looking fabulous, which would be really amazing if I weren’t worried about Valens’s people randomly showing up, recognizing me, and dragging me away to torture me for information,” I murmured.
“When this is all over, I’m sure Demigod Kieran will take you out for a nice dinner or something where you can be dressed up,” Mordecai said. “He seems to understand that you like that sort of thing.”
Nervous flutters filled my belly. I’d just be happy with this all working out, period.
“First up, handbag shopping,” I said, checking the time. Early afternoon.
Pressure settled on my chest. Half the day had gone by, and I had nothing to show for it. I should be training, not shopping.
I heaved a frustrated sigh. Kieran had suggested this shopping trip, which meant he really did want supplies for the house. He wouldn’t send his people out on frivolous ventures, especially with Valens breathing down our necks. He wanted me here for a reason, and the least I could do was enjoy myself. This was a dream come true, after all.
“Come on,” I said in a hush, veering us around a car, across an empty blue handicapped space, and onto the sidewalk. “This way.” I tugged him right.
He resisted, looking down the narrow strip in front of the stores. “I smell a shifter.”
“It’s probably Jack.”
“It’s not Jack.”
I paused for a brief moment before tugging him harder. “Valens doesn’t employ shifters. He barely tolerates them. We’re fine.”
He came grudgingly but didn’t stop darting glances behind us. “I’ve never smelled a shifter in the dual-society zone before.”
“It’s a shopping complex, Mordecai, with very popular, moderately priced stores. I’m sure there have been shifters in the area a time or two. I’ve never noticed any either, but that only means none of them have ever acted out of turn. It’ll be fine.”
“What if they know me?”
I scoffed. “How would they possibly know you? The alpha himself doesn’t know what you look like now. What you smell like. And even if he somehow discovered where we used to live, we weren’t there last night. We’re safe. Both of us are.” I pulled him toward the sliding doors. The glass parted like magic, welcoming us into the store’s depths. “Besides, you only vaguely smell a shifter, right? That means the shifter is upwind and won’t catch your scent. Given that you can’t see them, they can’t see you.”
“I saw a few people walking, and one leaning against a pillar. Maybe there’s more than one.”
“Fine, but could you see their faces?” He didn’t comment. “Exactly. You were too far away for facial recognition, and even if they had a picture of your face, they wouldn’t recognize your build and your stride. We’re fine, Mordecai. We’ve got the guys and Bria with us…somewhere. If something happens, they’ll step in.”
Mordecai blew out a breath and let me drag him toward the handbags. “I just don’t know about this, Lexi. You’ve got that mark now…”
A splash of the normal excitement of the hunt rolled through me. “Please, please, let me see a Burberry. Let me see one,” I said in a hush as I toured the round racks stuffed with purses. I didn’t even care that it was a bad idea to snag a unicorn and traipse it through the shop—now that I had the means to buy one, I’d be hard-pressed to leave it on the rack.
“You already have a Burberry,” Mordecai said distractedly. His phone vibrated, and he pulled it from his pocket.
“I have one style of Burberry, yes. I would love to have two. Or maybe a fun little Kate Spade. Or, oh my God, could you imagine me carrying around a Prada? Or a Gucci? I wouldn’t even know how to act.” I pushed aside some ghastly leather thing dotted with ridiculous rhinestones. “I’d settle for a little offbeat number that looks halfway decent.”
“Jack is asking for our twenty.” Mordecai’s fingers tapped the screen. “I’m telling him that I think this shopping trip is messing with your decision-making skills.”
“It’s your attitude that is messing with my decision-making skills,” I murmured, pushing aside a pink number. “That said, can you give a girl a little space, please? I need to concentrate.”
But try as I might, I couldn’t see anything worth buying. Not one thing. Every time I’d come in here without a penny to my name, the racks had been full of fun little ditties I just had to have.
Defeated, I grabbed his arm and tugged him toward the other end of the store. “Let’s get you something.”
A woman glanced up as I passed. Her eyes widened, then slowly began to sparkle. A wistful grin twisted her previously downturned lips.
“That’s…weird,” I whispered, hurrying Mordecai along.
His stare lingered on the woman, who didn’t seem to notice him at my side. He bent back to his phone, clearly relaying the reaction to one of the Six, as we reached the men’s section.
“Oh look, this one is nice.” I pulled out a black button-up inlaid with shinier black squares. I held the shirt up to his frame. “Your shoulders are going to be a problem when you fill out.”
“The wardrobe Kieran got me is better quality.”
I put the shirt back, flicking my gaze back the way we’d come. The woman hadn’t followed us, luckily, but she did keep glancing our way, leaning so she could see around Mordecai.
“That…might be an issue,” I said softly, pushing a gap into the stuffed rack so I could distractedly assess the options. Mordecai was right—the shirt he wore was much nicer than any of the ones brushing against my fingertips. “Curses. Kieran’s flare for quality has undermined one of my big dreams—”
“He’s here.” Mordecai’s fingers curled around my upper arm. “Lexi, the shifter I smelled just walked in.”
Mordecai’s tone sent a thrill of adrenaline through me. The doors at the front slowly slid closed. The racks of clothes between us hid all but the newcomer’s head and the tips of his shoulders. Given that he wasn’t rushing forward to procure whatever necessity had brought him into the store, he was browsing. Except his square face and tight buzz cut didn’t dip to take in the display of sunglasses at his right, or the belts and wallets a few paces to his left. He moved forward slowly, his eyes up, surveying. He was looking for someone.
“Mother trucker biscuit fucker,” I said softly as I felt the stranger’s magic pulse in his middle. Lower class three, I would guess. Nothing too fancy, but plenty fancy to ruin my shopping spree. “Are you sure it’s the same smell?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Mordecai turned to the side and held a shirt up to his torso, pretending to consider it. “When the doors opened, I got a blast of it.”
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