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Rhapsodic: Chapter 9

December, eight years ago

Des and I stand in a dark corner of campus, where a low-lying stone wall separates the grounds of Peel Academy from the edge of the cliffs that border this area of the Isle of Man. Far below us the ocean churns as it crashes against the rocks. I swear I can hear that water whispering to me, begging me to come closer. It’s not a stretch to believe that the sea birthed sirens. It calls to my dark, inner self the way my voice calls to men.

Well, mortal men, anyway.

I had wondered what kind of supernatural was immune to my glamour. Now I had my answer.

Fairies. Creatures that are not of this world.

I look over at the campus grounds, where students bustle between Peel Castle to my left—which houses the school’s classrooms, dining halls, and libraries—and the dormitories to my right. The place is lit up by lamps, but even so, between the coastal fog and the evening darkness, it’s hard to make people out.

“They can’t see us,” Des says. The Bargainer steps in close, and the heat of his magic brushes against me. “But it wouldn’t matter anyway, would it?” he says.

I take a step away from him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Des moves forward. “Poor Callie. Always on the outside, always looking in.”

I frown, my eyes returning to the groups of students that cross the lawn. Even from here I can hear their laughter and bits of their conversation.

“Tell me, cherub,” he continues, “how does someone like you,” his eyes move pointedly over me, “end up being an outcast?”

Briefly my gaze drops to my ripped jeans and ankle boots, then to my leather jacket and the scarf that rings my neck. Physically, I fit in. It’s everything beneath my skin that sets me apart.

“Why are we even talking about me?” I ask, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.

His gaze follows my hand. “Because sometimes you fascinate me.”

My heart skips a beat. I’d all but assumed that the interest went one way.

He’s still staring at me, waiting for his answer.

“It’s not them, it’s me.”

His brows pull together.

I glance back down at my boots and kick at a patch of grass. “It’s hard pretending to be normal after … you know.” After you off someone. I exhale. “I think I have to put myself back together before I make friends. Real friends.”

I can’t believe I just admitted that. I rarely admit these things even to myself.

Des tips my chin up, his face serious. He doesn’t say anything for a long time, though I’m sure a million different things are going on in his devious mind.

“How about I make you a queen for a night?” he finally says.

I give him a queer look. But before I can read into his intentions, a line of small, twinkling lights appear over his shoulder. As they get closer I hear the buzzing of their wings.

Fireflies. A whole group of them. They fly in one single, orderly line.

My eyes cut to Des, who’s smiling softly. This is clearly his work.

The twinkling fireflies circle me before—horror of horrors—they descend on top of my head.

“I have bugs in my hair,” I tell him, my shoulders tense.

“You have a crown,” he corrects, smirking and leaning against the stone wall.

This is his idea of a crown? I can feel them moving about my hair, and it takes everything in me not to swat them all away.

I’m not really a bug person.

One of the fireflies tumbles off, landing on my scarf. It then proceeds to crawl beneath my scarf and down my shirt.

Oh my God!” I squeal.

“Naughty bugs,” Des chastises, coming over and helping me scoop the firefly up, “stay away from the pretty human boobs.”

Did he just call my boobs pretty?

The Bargainer captures the bug in his fist, his knuckles grazing my skin. He steps away from me and, opening his palm, releases the glowing critter. The two of us watch it drunkenly canter back to my hair.

I can just barely make out their luminescent bodies flickering above me. The whole thing is so ridiculous and strange that I begin to laugh. “Des, are you trying to cheer me up?”

But when I get a good look at him, he’s not laughing. The insects’ light dances in his eyes as he stares at me, lips parted.

Des blinks, and it’s like he’s returning from wherever his mind drifted.

He takes my hand. “Let’s get out of here. You hungry?” he asks. “Dinner’s on me.”

I squeeze his palm, feeling like something between us changed for the better. But I don’t address it; there’s nothing like a good confession to scare the Bargainer away.

“Dinner’s on you?” I say instead. “Now that sounds interesting …”

He flashes me a wicked smile, his eyes twinkling. “Cherub, I may make a fairy out of you yet.”


I’m already elbow deep into my work by the time Temper saunters into West Coast Investigations, slamming open the door to her office. That woman is like a hurricane.

I hear her click on her message machine and then, a moment later, I hear the tinny sound of a message.

Sipping my coffee, I once again check the Most Wanted list.

The Bargainer is still listed as the third most wanted criminal in the supernatural world. Whatever strings Eli pulled, they’re still holding.

I suppose if the Politia catches me and the Bargainer together, I’ll be viewed as an accomplice.


This is precisely why I keep secrets. The law and I don’t quite see eye to eye.

Hooooo!” Temper whoops from the other room. I hear the click of her shoes as she jogs over to my room.

Girl,” she says, pausing dramatically in my doorway. Today her hair falls in loose waves around her shoulders, “did you hear—”

“—about the hundred-K client?” I finish for her.

I swivel in my chair, the heels of my boots scraping across the top of the desk. “Yeah, I already got a file written up for him.”

The client in question had also called my phone, specifically requesting to work with me. What he needed my help with wasn’t clear, only that he was willing to pay a king’s ransom for it.

I finger the file I created for him. “Seems a little sketchy,” I admit. Not sketchy enough to turn down, but enough to raise red flags.

Temper harrumphs. “If you don’t take it, will. I’ve got a kitchen to remodel.”

“I’ll take it, I’ll take it,” I grumble. “By the way,” I grab a stack of files to my left and toss them to her, “these are officially yours.”

She grabs the folders and flips through them. “Excellent. Oh, look at this precious gem—a wife beater I get to hex. Poor baby, he has no idea.” Temper slides out of her chair. “All right, I best be getting to work. So many criminals, so little time—” She pauses when she catches sight of my face. “Hey, how are you holding up?”

Whatever she sees in my expression must be giving away some of my inner turmoil. My personal life is never very great, but right now it’s at an all-time low.

I lift a shoulder. “Meh.”

“Meh good, or meh bad?”

“Meh I’m not sure?” I answer.

She leans across the table and places her hand over mine. “I’ve been a bad friend. I assumed that thing with Eli … that it was just a fling.”

I slide my hand out from under hers and wave her off. “Stop being a sap. This isn’t about Eli.”

“Oh good,” she relaxes, straightening. “I was about to feel massively guilty.” She frowns as she takes me in again. “So … what is wrong?”

I set down my coffee and scrub my face. “My past.”

“Ah,” Temper says, “the mysterious past you still haven’t told me about …”

“I will,” I insist, “I just …”

Would you like a demonstration?

You would enjoy yourself, Callie. I would make sure of that.

Des might as well be in the room, I can hear his voice so clearly right now.

“… don’t know how I feel about it at the moment,” I finish.

Temper nods sympathetically. “Fine, screw talking about it. Want to grab drinks tonight, piss off a bartender for being rowdy, and pick up some eligible bachelors?”

“Um, raincheck.” There’d be no drinking and dating in the near future for me.

“Hmmm, well, you’ll let me know if everything isn’t okay, won’t you?” she asks.


“Of course.”

“You’re such a goddamn liar, Callie,” she says, shaking her head. “Fine, tell me when you’re ready.”

But when it comes to the Bargainer that’s the thing: I’m not sure I’ll ever be.

After taking care of several odds and ends—including memorizing the list of interview questions the Bargainer gave me last night—I leave the office and head out to interview the primary person of interest in one of the cases I’m working. Most of my job is simply this: cornering people, glamouring them, and forcing them to confess whatever they know.

Today it’s about a client’s missing daughter.

“Where is she?” I demand, crossing my arms.

The suspect: twenty-four-year-old Tommy Weisel, local drug-dealer, community college dropout, and ex-boyfriend of sixteen-year-old Kristin Scott, who’s currently missing.

Tommy sits in one of his kitchen chairs, pinned in place by my glamour. He squirms in his seat, unable to stand, his throat working as he tries to suppress his answer.

As usual, it’s all in vain.

“She-she’s in the basement,” he says, his upper lip quivering.

Once the words are out, he scowls at me. “You coc—” The rest of the sentence dies in his throat.

Another order I gave him: no swearing and no putdowns. It’s really for his own good. The siren in me loves nothing better than to reward hate with cruelty.

“How did Kristin get into your basement?” I ask.

Tommy licks his lips, his gaze darting to my phone, which is just out of his reach and currently capturing this all on video.

“I … led her there,” he says.

The side of my mouth curves up, and I prowl closer to him, stroking his face with the back of my glowing hand. “Led? Is that you trying to be clever?” I tsk, shaking my head. “It was a good try. Let me rephrase: is Kristin there against her will?”

He squeezes his eyes shut as sweat beads on his forehead.

“Answer me.”

“Yeeeeeessss.” The word hisses out of him, and then he’s panting, trying to catch his breath. His shoes slam against the linoleum floors and he screams out in frustration. “You motherfu—” His voice cuts off in a gurgle.

I lean in close to him, ignoring his oily hair and the smell of stale B.O. wafting off his clothes. “This is what you’re going to do,” I say. “You’re going to release Kristin, then you’re going to turn yourself in and confess to everything you’re guilty of, and you’re going to work with police to prove your guilt. And you are never, ever going to harm Kristin, her family, and any other girlfriends or exes you have ever again.”

He shudders as my glamour takes hold of him.

“Now get up and release your girlfriend.”

Without any further prodding, Tommy leads me to Kristin, who’s cowering in his basement.

Several minutes later, a crying Kristin and I are in the foyer of Tommy’s house.

The drug dealer looks scared and angry as he watches us, forced to stand over ten feet away from me and Kristin thanks to another order I gave him.

I lead Kristin to the front door, using my jacket to turn the knob. One can never be too careful about leaving fingerprints behind. Guys like Tommy are sometimes wilier than they appear.

I usher Kristin out, then pause, glancing back at Tommy, who’s glaring at me.

“Remember,” I say, “you’re going to turn yourself in right after this.” I begin to close the door before I pause again. “Oh, and I was never here.”

As soon as I get home, I drop my things and head for my bedroom to fetch my swimsuit. Today, I’m getting in the ocean.

Now that I’m officially not drinking, swimming is one of the only other ways that I relieve tension. And interacting day in and day out with some of the greediest, least scrupulous people in L.A., I have a lot of tension to relieve.

I never make it past my living room.

My front door rattles, then metal groans as someone breaks apart my doorknob. A moment later the door bangs open.

I only have enough time to call the siren to the surface.

Instead a familiar form comes storming in.

I clutch my chest. “Crap, Eli,” I say, my voice ethereal, “you scared me.” And then I realize Eli just broke into my house.

I glance back at the door. “Were you … waiting for me?”

He doesn’t respond, and there’s an intensity to his features that makes me tense up.

He crosses the foyer, his attention focused wholly on me. Without speaking, he closes the last of the distance between us and pulls me into his arms, kissing me hard.

“Whoa,” I say, managing to break my lips away. The rest of me is still crushed to him. “What’s going on?”

My mind is having trouble catching up.

Eli’s my home. Eli’s holding me.

“I had to see you, baby.” He’s back to kissing me, and I am so confused.

I rip my head away to glance at the calendar I have up.

The full moon …

“Eli, you shouldn’t be here.”

It’s only been a day since the full moon, and the closer to the full moon it is, the more a shifter’s human side gives way to the animal. It’s dangerous for non-shifters to be around them.

“I couldn’t stay away.” His lips are back on mine, and I’m trying really hard not to freak the fuck out, but his hands are shaking and I can feel Eli fighting to keep this form.

“Why didn’t anyone stop you from leaving?”

“No one gets in the way of mate business,” he says, doing everything he physically can to get close to me.

Mate business.

Mate. Business.


Nope, nope, nope.

I think I’m beginning to hyperventilate. All I wanted was to go for a swim, and instead … this steaming pile of horseshit.

“But I’m not … I’m not your mate,” I say. I’m not even his girlfriend. Not anymore.

I can hear him growl low in his chest. “I was going to ask. Once I got back, I was going to ask.”

Uh oh.

“Ask me what?”

Please don’t ask me what I think’s on your mind.

We’d been together a whopping six months. I’m still getting used to the fact that he has a toothbrush in my bathroom.

This entire relationship, he’s been pushing. Pushing for more touching, more intimacy, more openness—just more.

He pauses long enough to look me in the eye. “For you to be my mate.”

I might be the most awful person in the world because at his words, I shudder. Not the good kind of shudder either.

“Um.” I can’t edge away from him, caught in his arms as I am. He’s not even acting human at the moment. Eli’s touchy-feely in general, but he’s never like this—never crazed with the need to mark and claim me as his.

My eyes slide to the window, where dusk is setting in. “We should talk about this when we aren’t close to the full moon.” When I know you’re not going to go big bad wolf on me.

His chest rumbles with his disapproval. “I don’t want to talk about this, Callie. I don’t want to analyze what I feel for you. I want you to say yes, and then I want to fuck you until you’re saying my name like a mantra.”

That right there is how this man managed to end up in my bed in the first place. That’s sexual manipulation. Or oral—or I don’t freaking know, but he definitely knows how to win over the siren.

“I have a ring,” he says, kissing my jaw, his fingernails shifting into claws, then back to human nails. “Shit,” he says, a bit of his human side peeking out, “none of this is coming out right. Just, be mine.”

A grown man as sexy as Eli can’t just say stuff like that. My lady bits want to overthrow my brain.

“Please, Eli,” I say as he rubs his cheek against mine, masking me in his scent. “We need to talk about this.”

Wait. What am I saying?

This isn’t a negotiation. There’s nothing to talk about. When you end a relationship, you don’t owe the other person an explanation, crappy though that may be.

Besides, I already gave him one.

His chest rumbles. “Fine, we’ll talk later.”

He resumes kissing me with the same animalistic passion he entered my home with. Only now, it’s even sharper than usual. The man’s giving way to the beast even as the sun sets.

I don’t know what to do. I ended my relationship with this man. He’s acting like it never happened.

I pull away long enough to say, “We broke up.”

“I thought about it after we talked.” He kisses me, then pulls away again. “What kind of mate would I be if I didn’t stand by you when you needed me?”

The alpha in him is telling me that that’s the end of the conversation, and for a few moments I get dragged under.

I blink through the haze of his dominance, the same dominance he’s been throwing around since he swept me up in his arms, I just hadn’t noticed it then.

He doesn’t get to decide we’re back together. And even if he’s okay with me receiving attention from two men at the same time—and an alpha would never settle for being second fiddle—I’m not.

His hands are beginning to roam. This is escalating way too quickly.

“Wait, Eli,” I say. But he’s not listening to my words, he’s listening to my body, and my body’s sort of enjoying the heavy petting.

“Eli,” I say again, even as the siren surfaces.

His hand dips into my pants and—

Eli, stop.” My voice hits multiple notes as I force the siren into it.

Eli stills, obeying the command in my voice.

I bent an alpha to my will. Not good not good not good.

But more than that, I just glamoured Eli, the man who proclaimed to love me. A bounty hunter who works on the right side of the law.

I’m fucked in every way but the one I’d actually enjoy.

“Did you … glamour me?” His voice becomes so gravelly as the predator tries to take over.

I swallow.

I’ve glamoured Eli before. There are certain situations where that’s inevitable. But I’m always careful to avoid taking away his will. And a second ago, his will was gone.

Behind me, the glass doors out to my balcony shatter, and the night sweeps in, darkening the room. With it comes a wave of menace so palpable my hair stands on end.

Des steps out of the shadows, every line of his body tense. “Well, doesn’t this look cozy,” he says, taking in the two of us.

Eli begins to growl, something so deep and sinister that my hair stands on end, and it’s not even directed at me. “You,” he says.

“Me what, dog?” Des responds, crossing his arms.

Dog? Did the Bargainer just guess that Eli was a shifter, or had he known? I hadn’t told him about Eli when he asked about my relationships …

Des,” I warn.

Eli pushes me behind him, like the Bargainer is the one we should all be worried about right now. “Stay out of this, Callie,” he orders.

See, now that—that was what was always wrong with our relationship. Eli taking command and assuming I’d fall in line. Which was about the equivalent of him poking a hornet’s nest with a stick.

“I don’t think you’re in any position to give her orders,” Des says. He cocks his head. “Did you really think someone like Callypso would actually want more from you than your dick?” he says, stepping forward, bringing the night at his back in with him.

I can feel the tug of Desmond’s magic luring me out from behind Eli, whose growl is getting louder with every passing second.

“What can you give her besides that?” The Bargainer continues. “Intellectually stimulating conversations?” His eyes flick over all six plus feet of hulking, barely-contained shifter. “That’s a definite no. I’m sure she’s been getting that need fulfilled elsewhere.”

Eli’s growl is so loud, I swear the house is vibrating with it.

“If you touch her …” Eli can barely get the words out. “If you lay one hand—”

Des flashes a sinister smile. “I have already laid a hand on her. And my mouth. And all other sorts of things—”

Eli lets out a roar, his muscles tensing. I think he’s going to rush the Bargainer, but instead he takes a staggering step forward, his skin rippling.

I’ve never seen the change happen in person, but oh my sweet baby Jesus, I’m about to. In less than a minute Des and I will be trapped in a room with a werewolf.

This is why shifters stay away from non-shifters during the full moon.

Unless, of course, they want to turn a particular non-shifter into a shifter.

That couldn’t be why Eli’s here, could it?

Eli knew I didn’t want to change, and even if I did, a witch should always be close at hand, just in case the change didn’t take, or the body became too weak, or any other sort of complications arose.

But Eli hadn’t been in the right frame of mind since he arrived, his brain already more wolf than man.

You won’t change,” Des’s voice resonates throughout the room, and I feel the magic brush past me, forcing itself on Eli. “Not in this house, not so close to one whom you consider your … mate.”

How much had he heard of our conversation?

How much had he already known?

A whine interrupts the string of deep growls coming from Eli. He turns to me, his eyes already amber. There’s nothing of the man I cared for in them. Just the feral eyes of a wolf. Yet I don’t fear him. Eli’s protective instinct is innate, and I’m part of his pack.

But he will hurt Des. Des, who is competition, Des who is in his territory, exerting control on his—ugh—mate. Des, who I can feel staring at me. I can sense his growing need to take me away.

“Eli,” I say quietly. I hold his gaze as shades of brown start to bleed back into his irises.

I begin to relax, especially when he straightens.

Then Eli’s head swings towards Des, and the growl erupts in his chest all over again.

And then something makes him snap. Letting out a snarl, he charges Des.

My heart nearly stops.

Fear, the likes of which I haven’t felt in a long time, courses through me.

Eli, don’t touch him.” This time, when I use the glamour, I know what I’m doing. My voice is strong and unwavering.

Eli stops just short of Des, bound by my magic.

I crossed a line. I know I did.

I don’t care. That’s the truly frightening part. I took away Eli’s free will, and all I feel is relief that Des is unharmed.

The panic I felt, the utter terror …

My eyes meet the Bargainer’s. His are unreadable.

“It’s time to go, cherub,” he says while Eli chuffs in confusion mere feet away.

I give the shifter a worried look. Eli might’ve forgiven me using glamour on him once. But twice?

No way.

He makes a baying sound, something that cuts me deep. “Callie, no,” he says. He’s beginning to hunch over again, his brown eyes bleeding to gold. Not even the Bargainer’s magic can hold the change back for long.

I hesitate, realizing what this is—a crossroads. Down one path is Eli and everything he represents; down the other is Des.

If Eli killed the Bargainer, I’d be released from my debts. Des probably deserves death. And with the Bargainer gone, I’d get another chance at life with Eli. And eventually I would become his mate. It would be so easy to just say yes, to give into a life that a thousand other women would want.

But eventually Eli would want me to make the change. Eli had already started bringing that up —that and … pups. Shifters were big family people. I’d be his wife, mother of his many children.

I couldn’t just be Callie; I’d have to be his Callie. I’d have to come to heel, be subservient to him, as the rest of his pack was. I’d have to put the pack first before my needs.

Or I could leave with Des. Des, who guarantees nothing. Des, who left me all those years ago only to come roaring back into my life. Des who doesn’t want to change me.

Des, who’s offered me nothing but hope and heartache. Des, my friend. Des, my mystery.



And there is my answer.

Eli was someone’s dream, but … but he wasn’t mine.

“I will always care for you, Eli,” I say, “but you need to go back to your people.”

Callie.” His voice breaks.

His pain’s shattering me. I don’t want him to hurt.

Shadows gather around me. Suddenly, Des is wrapping his arm around my waist. “Cherub, we need to go.”

Seeing us together is Eli’s final straw. His eyes become wholly golden, and they lose their spark of human intelligence. Hair sprouts along his skin. His back bows, his muscles rippling. He throws his head into the air and howls, the sound making every nerve of mine stand on end.

Night air swirls around me as Des tugs me towards my backyard.

When Eli drops to all fours, I throw caution to the wind, and run, grabbing Des’s hand and hauling him with me.

The Bargainer scoops me into his arms just as a spine-chilling howl fills the air behind us.

“Hold on,” Des says as Eli lopes towards us.

Geez, that is a big fucking wolf.

The Bargainer’s body tenses, and then he pushes off the ground.

I catch a glimpse of Eli’s wolf lunging after us, his teeth snapping at empty air where a second ago Des’s ankle was.

I hear the mournful howls long after we’re airborne, the sound haunting.

I lean my head into Des’s chest, feeling his hands tighten around me.

For better or for worse, I’d chosen him.

And I still don’t regret it.


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