Back Cover Copy: Livy Kowalski has no time for idiots. When you shapeshift into a honey badger, getting through life’s irritants is a finely honed skill. Until she gets stuck housing her nutso cousin and dealing with her dad’s untimely and unexplained demise.
That’s where Vic Barinov comes in—or his house does. Vic can’t step outside without coming back to find Livy devouring his honey stash and getting the TV remote sticky. It gets his animal instincts all riled up. But he’ll have to woo her at high speed: all hell is breaking loose, and Livy is leading the charge…
Coming From Brava
As always, Livy’s plans did not turn out as she’d hoped. Although she’d planned to be back in Manhattan the night of her father’s funeral or, at the very least, early morning after, she’d ended up staying another full day in Washington. Although she’d helped her mother contact the many life insurance companies so that she could lay claim to Damon’s money only because it meant her mother most likely wouldn’t bother Livy for the next few…years.
Her mother often forgot how annoying she found Livy until she had to spend some “quality” time with her only child. Then all those memories came flooding back and Livy didn’t have to worry about seeing her mother—or putting up with her—for ages.
And despite Livy’s suggestions that she leave, Toni insisted on staying. Which, in the end, was good. Because the woman knew how to get people through an airport as quickly as possible.
“Sit here,” Toni said, pushing Livy down by her shoulders so that she sat on the one piece of luggage she’d brought with her. “I’ll get a taxi and we’ll be out of here.”
Toni went off and Livy rested her elbow on her knee, her chin on her fist, and gazed off across the busy streets surrounding JFK Airport. As she waited, obscenely long legs and massive bodies began to march by her.
She didn’t move or anything, but she did notice the squealing girls and the crowd of people following the full-human males walking by. It was around that time she heard a low male voice bark, “I am not a football player. Now get out of my face.”
For the first time in days, Livy smiled. She couldn’t help it. What exactly did the man expect? He was seven feet and two inches tall. Nearly four hundred pounds. And even with that handsome face, wickedly sharp cheekbones, and dark brown and gold hair that hung in ragged layers almost to his shoulders—he was terrifying looking. Of course people thought he was on a national sports team. Their other option was murdering serial killer from a “Friday the 13th” movie.
Livy waited until Vic was a few steps from her before asking, “Hey, mister. Can I have your autograph?”
Snarling, Vic replied, “I am not a—Livy?” Vic stopped right in front of her, gazed at her. “What are you doing?”
“Selling my ass on the streets for a few bucks.”
“Times that tough?”
Thankfully, Vic had learned how to deal with what very few called Livy’s sense of “humor” not long after they’d met. Which was good because Livy really didn’t know how to not ask people strange, disorienting questions. As an artist, she found their confusion fascinating.
“Tough enough,” she replied. “Hi, Shen.”
“Hey, Livy. Like your hair.”
Livy smirked at Shen’s running joke. As a honey badger, she had black hair with the white streak off to the side while Shen, as a giant panda, had white hair with big swipes of black through it. He was also munching on that damn bamboo crap. With his fangs, he was clearly a predator. But for whatever reason, although they had the digestive system of carnivores, giant pandas ate bamboo. The problem was that pandas needed a lot of bamboo in order to survive. A lot. So every time Livy saw the man…he was eating.
Still, it was fun to watch him hang around poor Vic Barinov. The hybrid didn’t know what to do with the sweet, but sometimes chatty, six-foot panda who was nearly as wide as he was tall. Something else Livy and Shen had in common. Massive shoulders on relatively smaller human bodies than most shifters were used to. Oh. And they were both Asian. Well, as Jake liked to say, “Livy is half Asian, half Polish and allllll honey badger!”
Livy, however, had much less in common with Vic, but they’d worked together once when helping Toni rescue her baby brother from Delilah’s cult.
“Before we go any further,” Vic said to Livy, “my house?”
“What about it?”
Vic raised an eyebrow.
Livy rolled her eyes. “I haven’t been back since the last time you threw me out.”
“I didn’t throw you out. I asked you nicely to leave so I could call the contractor to fix all the holes you’d put into it.”
“I had to get inside, didn’t I?”
“But you have your own place.”
“I ran out of honey.”
“So you came all the way out to Westchester for honey?”
“You have really good honey.”
Vic blew out a breath. “Just tell me if I’ll be facing holes when I get home.”
“Do I have any honey left?”
“Yes. You have honey left.”
“I don’t know why I’m getting the tone. You’re the one who keeps eating all my honey.”
Livy smirked. “When you have rum-infused honey in your cabinets—you’re asking for it.”
That made Vic smile, something he didn’t do very often. Then again…neither did she.
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Using his bamboo stalk to point at them, Shen admitted, “I don’t get the thing you two have for honey.”
They stared at him while he chomped on his bamboo until Vic turned back to Livy and asked, “You need a ride home?”
“Toni went to get a cab. She should be back soon.” She studied Vic a moment. She hadn’t seen him in months; his work took him out of the country very often. “What are you doing back in the States? Or are below-freezing East Coast temperatures where you come to get a break from those balmy Russian winters?”
“I have information on our old friend.”
“That Whitlan guy? Are they still looking for him?”
Vic nodded. “Yeah.”
“You’d think they’d have gotten him by now. How hard is it to find someone in this day and age?”
“The man knows how to disappear.”
Livy shrugged, not really caring. Honey badgers didn’t concern themselves with the problems of other shifters. They saw themselves as honey badgers not as part of a bigger shifter universe. A good thing since most of the other breeds didn’t really like them and some didn’t even know honey badgers existed.
“What about you?” Vic asked. “What are you doing here?”
“Just coming in from Washington.”
“Dead family.” Livy chuckled at her own joke, but when Vic and Shen just stared at her, she said, “Sorry. Bad joke. I was at a funeral.”
Vic frowned, which made him look even more terrifying, but Livy knew that was just his face. His handsome but terrifying face. God, those cheekbones are amazing.
“I’m sorry, Livy. Who died?”
Both men blinked and she realized she’d surprised them.
“Livy…” Vic looked at Shen, back at her. “My God, I’m so sorry.”
Livy shrugged. “We weren’t close.”
“Still. It’s your father.”
“I threw a baseball bat at him once,” she admitted to the two men. “Clocked him right in the head. He was out for, like, a good thirty minutes.”
Shen blew out a breath. “Oh. Okay.”
But Vic refused to be put off. “He’s still your father. I know this must be hard for you.”
“Not as hard as when he woke up and came after me with that baseball bat. Didn’t catch me, though. I’m superfast when running…away.”
Vic stared at her a moment before finally stating, “I want to awkwardly hug you.”
Livy looked up at him. “Awkwardly?”
“Neither of us is very good with affection so I pretty much assume that any physical encounters between us will be awkward.”
That made Livy laugh and without thinking about it too much, she stood up and wrapped her arms around Vic’s waist, giving him a hug she hadn’t given her mother when she’d left for the airport.
Vic hugged her back and, if Livy wasn’t mistaken, kissed the top of her head.
“If you need anything,” Vic said, “you just let me know.”
Livy pulled away from Vic. Not because she was tired of that hug—it was surprisingly nice—but because she sensed someone grabbing the rolling case she’d brought with her for the trip.
Using her foot, Livy rammed the case down, spun around, and nearly had her hands around the man’s throat when Toni came running up, screaming, “He’s the cabbie! He’s the cabbie!”
Livy immediately pulled her hand back. “Oh. Sorry.”
“He’s just helping with the luggage,” Toni explained. She patted Livy’s leg, trying to get her to remove her foot from the bag. When Livy didn’t move fast enough, the patting became a hard slap.
Livy moved her foot and the driver quickly took her bag and headed to the waiting cab.
Toni glared at her, which just made Livy chuckle. Then Toni smiled up at Vic. “Hello, Victor.”
“Hi, Toni. How are you?”
“Fine.” Toni patted Vic’s arm, waved at Shen, since she didn’t know him well at all, and headed to the cab.
“I gotta go.” Livy smiled at Vic. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“You still working at the Sports Center?” he asked.
Livy sighed. “Of course. Where else would I be? In Paris? Milan? Perhaps in the middle of some great war? Why would I be there when I can take pictures of giant guys who balance on thin skates and charge around an ice rink, chasing after a little black puck? Because that’s fascinating.”
“So work’s going well?” Vic asked with a straight face.
Livy smirked. The bastard. “See ya.”
Livy got into the taxi beside Toni and closed the door.
“Huh,” Toni said.
“Explain to me at what point in our friendship I ever expressed having any tolerance of girls who play that particular game?”
“Fine,” Toni said. “I just noticed that Vic watched you until you got into the cab.”
“His friend was busy staring at the football cheerleaders or dancers or whatever they are who’d just passed by. But Vic watched you.”
“And? Your point?”
Toni shrugged and looked out the window. “Just sayin’.”
“Again,” Livy felt the need to make clear, “little tolerance for those kinds of girls.”
“I feel bad,” Vic told Shen as they headed toward the car he kept in long-term parking at the airport for when he came into town.
“Livy. I had no idea her dad passed away.”
“Doesn’t seem like they were close.”
“So? He’s still her father.”
“Not everyone is as close to their family as you are.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you and me are close to our families. My father dies? I’m sitting alone in my house for a few weeks, sobbing and eating bamboo stalks in his honor. But not everybody deals with death the way I do.”
“Still…I feel like I should do something.”
“I don’t know. I was hoping you had some ideas.”
“You know what helps me have great ideas?”
Vic sighed. “A free dinner?”
“At a steak house that’s not afraid to include raw bamboo on the menu.”
“You want me to pay for us to go to the Van Holtz Steak House?” A shifter-run establishment that catered to all species and breeds and was the only restaurant Vic could think of that offered raw bamboo as a side dish.
Shen raised and lowered his hands in the air before digging another short bamboo stalk out of the pack he kept in his denim jacket pocket. “You want ideas, don’t you? My ideas ain’t free.”
Copyright © Shelly Laurenston 2013