Fern Mansfield drags one of her pack-mates out to find more of their kind, but Gabriel Devlin is sure it won’t happen. However, at a local bar, a young woman with a feline way of moving grabs their attention. She must be like them, so Fern thinks – normal people don’t have three eyelids, nor a skin-burning itch on the backs of their hands where claws want to grow. And usually, what Fern wants, she gets. Even if she has to commit murder to make a point.
Cressida Naismith doesn’t want to belong to anyone – nor any pack – but becomes the prize fought for by two sides of a fast-dwindling group of shape-shifters. The pack doesn’t have an alpha male but if it did, Alexander Butler would be it. He’s more than willing to have his fun with Cress, especially if it means leaving the increasingly difficult-to-deal-with Fern out in the cold, but one thing stands in his way: the fact Fern is more than willing to commit murder to make a point.
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Universal Book Link for DARK-ADAPTED EYES showing all available vendors.
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[Special bonus feature: as Chapter 1 of Dark-Adapted Eyes is quite short, I’ve decided to post the first two chapters here as a teaser trailer instead.]
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“Why do you let her do this to you?” Gabriel Devlin’s voice melted into a resigned sigh and he straightened the cuffs of his shirt.
Fern always said it was a gesture that reminded her of Prince Charles. “He’s always fiddling with his cufflinks. Maybe I should buy you a pair,” she’d say. “You’d love it in Buckingham Palace. All that family silver to polish. All those possessions to rearrange.”
And Gabe would reply with some coolly-delivered sarcastic remark about it being a cold day in hell before Fern Mansfield bought anything when she seemed to believe shoplifting was more fun.
It wasn’t like she was short of money; none of them were; him, Fern or Alex. Office jobs were staid and boring and routine, but they paid the rent. Kept the wolf from the door, as the saying went.
“But not the cat,” Gabe muttered, smirking as he pulled on his jacket. He’d have preferred to have worn something a little smarter, but Fern had instructed him to dress down. “Try not to scare the peasants away.”
Now that had to be the height of hypocrisy. Fern was the scariest person he knew. A loose cannon.
But then she wasn’t, strictly speaking, a person.
He rolled his shoulders, trying to shrug off the thought of what purred away under the surface of all three of them. Really, if it were up to Gabe, he could cope with not having much to do with Fern, but her carelessness made her dangerous. She needed to be supervised. Fern had a nasty habit of skating close to the line of revealing what they really were to normal human beings. She enjoyed it, he knew. Teasing him and Alex, making them think she was going to publicly reveal herself, to openly change. That would cause trouble and trouble was messy and Gabe liked order.
And that was the only reason he put up with her. He’d agreed to accompany her tonight on her quest in a purely supervisory capacity.
Oh yeah, who are you trying to kid? Even straightening up a novel or two on his bookcase failed to distract him from the knowledge he lied to himself. There’s more than one reason you put up with her. He was a man. Well, kind of. But he had needs. Often he hated himself for allowing her to seduce him, but it was so easy to be swept away by Fern’s energy, dangerous though it often threatened to be. Better to make a half-hearted attempt at keeping her happy than risk Fern going outside their very small pack for excitement. Trouble was, it took both him and Alex to do it and Gabe wasn’t sure they could keep her under control for very much longer.
And so, he went along with it, for the sake of a quiet life that was nowhere near as quiet as he would have liked. He allowed himself to be toyed with, like a mouse in a cat’s paw. And at the same time, he helped clean up after her whenever she invited trouble in.
“Good old Gabe,” he told his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He’d allow himself one last cursory, but admiring, glance before heading out. “Always taking one for the team.”
A team which, surely one day, Fern would have to acknowledge only numbered three. She never tired of her search for others like them, but Gabe knew in his heart it wouldn’t happen. In all the years they’d been ‘friends’ (for want of a better word), it had been that way and Gabe couldn’t see it changing any time soon.
“I don’t know why you bother hanging round places like this.” Gabe wrinkled his nose, immaculate in his revulsion.
“You’re here too,” Fern pointed out. “Anyway, what’s wrong with it?”
He sighed. “It’s a bar with bare floorboards and a pool table, for goodness’ sake. You couldn’t get any more coarse if you put sawdust down and had a spittoon in the corner.”
“You are such a snob. Are you scared we could end up finding one of us in a place like this? You’d prefer to keep looking in wine bars and five-star restaurants? Weed out the commoners? Leave them be?” She arched her eyebrows and waited for his verdict, which she already knew.
Gabe fiddled with the cuff of his silk shirt. He was always bloody doing that and Fern loved to tease him about it. “This is worth a fortune and I’m wearing it to trail round pubs with you. Pubs.” Leaning one elbow on the bar with his back to the room, he dropped his voice even further and leaned in close. “I bet any one of these people would have it off my back as quick as look at me. They’re all so working-class.” He ran the tip of one finger along the collar of her jacket, tickling her neck.
“Oh, get off.” She slapped his hand away, though smiling.
“Label me a snob if you like,” he breathed against her ear, only just audible above the poppy music blaring from speakers behind the bar, “but I very much doubt you’ll find anything in this place. We’re a fastidious breed, Fern.” He drew her earlobe between his lips with his tongue and held it between his teeth for a moment, nearly biting, but not. “Well-groomed. Nice hair. Expensive clothes.” Ignoring her snort of derision, he asked, “Can you honestly see one of us frequenting a horrid little establishment like this by choice? Slumming it?”
“You never know.” She pulled back, looked him in the eye. “They might not realise they’re one of us. We have to keep looking.”
“Have to, have to, have to,” Gabriel sing-songed, frowning as he straightened, gripping the bar with one hand. “I can think of much better things I’d rather be doing this evening.”
“If you’re that horny, give Alex a call.” Fern thudded her now-empty wine glass onto the bar and glared. He was a few inches taller but she wasn’t intimidated by him, or indeed anyone, as he’d often commented.
“I don’t think so. I’m in the mood for something different tonight.”
“And I’m the lucky lady, huh?”
“Lucky, certainly.” He made tiny circles on the inside of her wrist with the pad of his thumb, laughing when she shivered. “Lady? Not so sure about that.”
“That’s exactly what I’ve got in mind.” No one raised their eyebrows like Gabe Devlin; one was slightly more arched than the other, appeared higher by a whisker. “You’re on a wild goose chase. It’s a waste of time. If one shows up, that’s all well and good but it’s so rare it’s not likely to happen, is it? Especially in a place like this.” The grimace failed to detract from his handsomeness, a fact which annoyed Fern no end. She despised being aroused by someone who got on her nerves as much as did Gabe.
“Waiting around doing nothing is my idea of wasting time,” she countered. “They’re hardly likely to land on our doorstep, so we look.”
“Oh, I suppose.” He shrugged. “But like I’ve said before, Fern. Us. We’re a bit more careful about our personal hygiene than people who come to places like this. If anyone here was like us, surely there’d be an inherent part of them that would make them clean up their act? You can’t be one of us and be oblivious to that, surely?”
“One never knows.” Fern sighed. “And not everyone who comes to this bar wears jeans and a football shirt and has chronic BO.”
“Ugh. I’d drown them with a sack of bricks before I had voluntary social contact with someone who’d wear such a ghastly combination, let alone introduced them to Alex. Oh Fern…” Gripping her lower arm, he stared straight into her eyes, his brow wrinkling in concern that she suspected was, just this once, genuine. “I see you disappointed time and time again and…well, if you need someone to console you, I’m your man.”
“Thanks for the offer.” She whipped her arm away, and his frown morphed into a mocking smile. “I think I’ll manage.”
“I know how this is going to turn out.” He paused, bit his lip. “And still you keep searching.”
“Yes.” She scanned the pub’s mostly still-sober clientele and finally winked at him. “Still.”
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Fern watched as a young blonde woman across the room potted another pool ball, her female companion lurking at the end of the table with her hip cocked in obvious boredom. They exchanged a few words, the one with the cue barely paying any attention to her friend as she spoke, the other rolling her eyes and showing more interest in a couple of guys at a nearby gaming machine.
“We’re not the only ones on the lookout, it seems,” she muttered in Gabe’s general direction, laughing at the scene playing out.
The more confident one forced the cue into her friend’s hand and, clearly pissed off at her unwilling opponent’s lack of commitment to the ball game played on green baize, as opposed to in bed, headed to the bar.
Gabe groaned. “Good God, Fern, why are you going elsewhere when you have me with you tonight?”
“Now come on, Gabe, you know me-” Fern hushed up as soon as the other woman leaned both elbows on the bar.
“Christ on a fucking bike…” The woman shook her head. “How I get myself into these situations I don’t know…”
“Pardon?” Fern asked. Anything to break the ice. Anything to rile Gabe by taking the limelight away from him. “Sorry, I thought you said something.”
“Huh? Oh, no, no…I was talking to myself,” the blonde replied and signalled to the barman. “Bottle of Miller, thanks.” She pulled a tenner out of her skirt pocket and when her drink arrived, handed it over. “Shit.” In the pause before her change came, she rubbed her eye, frowning.
“Oh, just…my eyelids. It’s nothing.” She massaged the skin above her cheekbone while looking up, then blinked slowly with her upper and lower eyelids, before letting a third slide across her eyeball and recede. All the while she smiled, as if daring Fern to react. I’m a freak. Marvel at me. She took a swig of her drink, pocketed her change and before leaving, saluted Fern with her bottle. “Have a nice evening. Hope yours is more exciting than mine.”
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“Fern?” Gabe nudged her with his shoulder. “Speak to me. Is it time to leave yet? I’m bored,” he said, his mouth suddenly against her ear. “And horny.”
“I am. And you’re irresistible. Come on, let’s-”
“Didn’t you see that?” She slammed her glass down on the bar and glared at him. “Tell me you didn’t see that.”
“I didn’t see that.” He shrugged. “What didn’t I see?”
“Her eye! I’m sure she had a…”
“An eye? Wow. Amazing. You know what?” Again he inclined his head towards her. “I think she had two. Like most human beings.”
“I could kick you sometimes, you know that?”
“You’re so incredibly sexy when you’re angry.”
“Stop what?” He widened his eyes in what she knew was a blatant attempt to look innocent.
Epic fail, Mister Devlin. “Trying to seduce me.”
“I can’t help it. I’m-” He winced when she made good on her threat and dug her heel into his ankle. “I’m…listening to what you were saying. Go on. That hurt.”
“It was supposed to.” She scowled. “Gabe, come closer.”
“Now that’s something I’m always happy to hear.” He moved his entire body sideways, nearing her, giving the appearance of gliding as he did so. There was something inherently graceful about Gabriel Devlin that even Fern couldn’t deny.
“You didn’t see her eye?”
“No. I was too busy trying to avoid catching something off one of the poor people- Hey, will you stop kicking-?” He growled under his breath and she only heard because he stood so near to her now, his warm breath rippling against her neck.
“Gabe. She-” Her breath caught when she turned to him. He had a look of intense concentration in his ice-blue eyes and appearances told her – would tell anyone – he was listening, but she knew from experience that Gabe’s appearance masked a wealth of secrets. His ears may have been tuned in to her voice, but his attention was divided. The way he wet his top lip with the tip of his tongue while staring at her own mouth told her that.
Swallowing, she made an attempt to not fall under his spell, and the only way to do that was to keep the conversation on a more important track. “Gabe, she…she had something in her eye.”
“A film. A third-”
“Fern.” He screwed his eyes shut and twitched his head in the merest hint of a shake – no. “Don’t do this.”
“Maybe I should-”
“No.” He grabbed her arm, digging his nails in until she gasped. Her gaze flickered down to his hand then back up to his face. “You’re not going over there.”
“For goodness’ sake. She’s with her friend. Think this through, Fern. You can’t just go about approaching people-”
“I swear she was showing it off!” Fern’s words choked her and she paused, and when she spoke again her voice was much lower, understanding as she did Gabe’s desire for discretion. Much as she hated to admit it, he was right. “Like she wanted us to see it.”
“Even if she did have a third eyelid, it means nothing. To her, it’s probably a rogue gene, an anomaly. It. Means. Nothing.”
Fern scowled. “Then why would she be so brazen about it?”
“For the same reason anyone who stands out is brazen. Daring society to pick on them. You know?” Gabe leaned even closer. “Kind of like someone not too far from here? Yes I’m a freak and I dare you to call me on it?”
“We can’t let her get away. Not after seeing-”
“Fern, Fern, Fern.” His touch, much gentler now, reassured her, no longer a restraint or reproof. He laid his hand over the back of hers as she set it on the bar, stroking her thumb with his own. “What would you do? March over there, introduce yourself, demand to examine her eyes, then drag her back to Alex’s place to show her off?” Gabe smiled, with his lips closed, handsome and mischievous all at once, as diabolical as his surname would suggest. One side of his mouth lifted higher than the other and his eyes crinkled up at the corners. He glanced over his shoulder for a moment before turning back to Fern. “Yes, she is very attractive, I’ll give you that. Even for someone who’s human – okay, okay, more than likely human – is the only concession I’ll make. She’s pretty. I mean, I would.”
Irritation flared in the pit of Fern’s stomach at his irreverent manner, and she snatched her hand away, or tried to, but he was too quick. His hand tightened over hers as she moved it, and her nails scraped the wood of the bar.
“Shit,” she blurted out, staring first at her hand, then the parallel lines she’d left in the wood. Back at her hand, fingers entwined with Gabriel’s. “Did I catch you?”
“No.” Still that infuriating smirk. “Did you mean to?”
“Of course not, Gabe. I’d never hurt you.”
“Likewise.” He lifted her hand to his mouth and murmured against her skin, “No claws tonight, Miss Mansfield.” He touched his lips to her fingertips, drew one into his mouth and sucked it gently, so gently she barely felt it on her hand, though her heart pounded. “You might hurt someone,” he added after a moment, releasing her fingertip as she released the breath she hadn’t even realised she’d been holding. “And we wouldn’t want that.”
“Gabe. Don’t do things like that in public.”
“Would you prefer I waited until we were in private?” He still held her hand to his face, amusement obvious in his wide grin and twinkling eyes.
“I’d prefer it if you accepted I have other things on my mind.” Fern drew her hand away, though not as sharply as she had tried to moments before.
“You’d better hope the landlord doesn’t see that.” Gabriel nodded towards the triple scratches in the varnished wood of the bar.
“I’ll deny it was me. How many women could leave scratch marks that deep in hard wood? Anyway, listen…what are we going to do about-”
“Thanks for your support, Devlin.”
He sighed so heavily it was almost a groan. “Fine, fine, carry on.” He waved a dismissive hand, turned away, leaned on the bar and hung his head.
Moving closer to him, she said through gritted teeth, “Gabe, I have to do something. What if she leaves?”
“Then. She. Leaves.”
“Maybe you could-”
“No. I don’t think I can be bothered.”
“Good. You won’t have to clear up the mess I allegedly always leave behind if you leave me to it. Just toddle off home and I’ll get on with things here.”
He grunted, a noise halfway between amusement and sarcasm.
“All right, all right, what do you suggest we do, Einstein? Walk out of here, pretend we never saw anyone with an eye like hers, forget it ever-”
“Yes, actually.” He slapped his hand down flat on the bar and straightened again. “But…”
“But you know that’s not gonna happen. I can tell you this, Gabe. I’m going after her. I’m not letting this one get away.”