'Allyn and Ransom - To Catch a Kidnapper - Book One'
Young adults are missing. Something socialite and red wolf shifter Allyn Warwick and his sister are unaware of until Allyn's ex-lover, police detective Ransom Carlyle, interviews them because they were at one of the social gatherings when a young man disappeared. The question then becomes, will Allyn and Ransom--who is an alpha gray wolf shifter--be able to put aside past differences to solve the case, and can they do so without letting the world know they are both shifters? Or will trying to work together--if they survive their hunt to begin with--destroy their slowly reawakening feelings for each other?
"Are you as bored at you seem?" Miranda asked her brother.
"And then some," Allyn replied with a yawn, while he watched the creme-de-la-creme of New Orleans society dancing and drinking as if the masked ball was the foremost event of the season. Of course for most of them it was--being high society's late summer version of Mardi Gras excesses. Therefore, they spent lavish amounts of money on their costumes, trying to outshine everyone else in attendance.
Although, to be honest, Miranda and Allyn didn't scrimp on their costumes either.
Miranda was dressed in shades of lavender, the high collar of her gown trimmed in gold and deep red to match her headdress, with its flowers and butterflies. If her decolletage had been any deeper, there would have been nothing left to the imagination. The amount of fabric in the belled skirt made up for that, the hem sweeping the floor for several feet around her.
Allyn, on the other hand, was somewhat less risque. Also in shades of lavender, his full-sleeved, knee-length coat was accented with gold and red, flaring out from his trim waist. His deep red britches however, fit like a second skin, with dark lavender hose and matching shoes completing the outfit. He carried a gold staff, the companion piece to Miranda's wand. Their masks--reversing the colors of their costumes--were gold, heavily decorated with lavender and red gems.
"Madame, would you do the honor of dancing with me?"
Miranda fluttered her fingers against her collarbone as she studied the man who had asked. Then, with a curtsy, she allowed as how she would love to. He held out his arm, she placed her hand on it, and they melded into the throng of dancers in the center of the ballroom.
If he only knew... Allyn smiled with wry amusement, taking a sip from the champagne flute he was holding. Emptying it, he looked for the nearest server and saw a young woman with a tray of drinks a few feet away. Crossing to meet her, he set his empty glass down, taking a full one to replace it.
"Planning on getting drunk?"
Allyn turned to smile as his most recent lover joined him. "It's that or die of boredom, Liam."
"We could escape upstairs to one of the bedrooms and do something about that," Liam replied impudently.
"Perhaps later, once I know Miranda's in good hands."
Liam looked where Allyn pointed. "Unless I'm mistaken, that's Jacob Paget, so she's quite safe. His only interest in her would be as a dancing companion."
"For sure--if it is him. Where's Martin?"
"On a business trip, from what I heard. Probably planned so he wouldn't have to endure this"--Liam shuddered--"this soiree."
"I think this is a bit more than a soiree," Allyn commented. "More like a dissipated distracting divertissement."
"How alliterative. Although I think divertissement has more to do with theatrical entertainment than a grand ball."
"Come now," Allyn retorted sardonically. "You don't think this is pure theater? Everyone dressed in costume, doing their best to enthrall the masses with their splendor?"
"Good point, and you're right." Liam slipped his hand under the slit at the back of Allyn's coat, squeezing his ass. "Now that we have that settled, let's see if we can find somewhere more private so we can explore what's underneath our costumes."
"You're incorrigible," Allyn replied with a laugh, lust replacing boredom. He checked on Miranda, glad to see she was still dancing with Jacob. Feeling it was safe to leave for a little while, he took Liam's hand and they exited the ballroom via the curving staircase leading to the upper floors of the mansion--and with luck, an empty bedroom.
* * * *
An hour later, Allyn and Liam returned to the ball, well sated and--at least in Allyn's case--in a much better mood.
As they descended the staircase, Allyn paused. Scanning the throng of partygoers, he searched for Miranda. Finding her, he frowned, wondering who her new dancing partner was.
"Your sister has a taste for unavailable men," Liam commented. "That's Daniel Markham."
"How do you know who everyone is when they're masked?"
"Not everyone, my dear man. Just those who are members of a certain private club I belong to." Liam grinned slyly. "I never forget a good body--no matter how it's clothed--once I've seen it naked."
"And slept with it," Allyn said dryly, still perusing the crowded dance floor.
Liam chuckled. "Contrary to popular opinion, I haven't slept with every eligible man in the city."
"Just all the gay ones," Allyn teased.
Whatever Liam's reply, it was lost to Allyn when his gaze landed on a man just entering the ballroom. In contrast to the rest of the attendees with their ornate and lavishly colored costumes, the man was dressed in black. He wore a double-breasted, high-collared tailcoat, black trousers, and knee-high boots. The only touch of color was the blood-red cravat at his throat, which accented his pale complexion. His mask was as plain as the rest of his costume: simple, black, and covering only his eyes--unlike the very fanciful ones of the other guests, including Allyn's.
"Who is he?" Allyn asked Liam, gesturing toward the man at the far side of the room.
Liam studied him, then shook his head. "No one I know. How gauche, not to wear a full-blown costume to a fancy dress ball."
"You must admit it makes him stand out," Allyn replied, as he made his way down the remainder of the staircase to the ballroom. For no logical reason that he could discern, he needed to see the man close-up. So he began wending his way through the dancers, gracefully stepping out of the paths of the more enthusiastic ones.
Finally, he was at the other side of the room. Looking around, he was dismayed to realize the man was no longer where he'd seen him. Standing on tiptoe, he tried to peer over the heads of the people nearby. For a moment he was certain he'd found the man and hurried toward him, only to discover the black coat belonged to one of the servers. He snatched a glass of champagne from the proffered tray, gulped down half of it, and after another attempt to find the man, gave up.
At that moment, Miranda joined him. She was flushed from dancing, smiling happily. "I'm having more fun," she announced. Leaning close, she whispered, "Gay men are the best dancers and don't require any sort of commitments."
Allyn laughed aloud. "Only when they're dancing with women."
"Speaking of which"--she grinned maliciously--"where's Liam? I thought I saw you with him."
"Meow," Allyn replied, making a clawing gesture with his fingers. "Honestly, Miranda, he's not that bad."
"You should know." She winked at him, then announced she was going to find something to eat.
"I'll come with," he replied, following in her wake.
By the time they'd reached the buffet table, Liam had joined them and the trio filled their plates with many of the delicacies on offer.
"Over there," Miranda said, pointing to a vacant bench along one wall. They made it there just before a couple bent on the same destination. Laughing, they sat, carefully balancing their plates while nibbling on small sandwiches, mini tarts, and bourbon balls, among other things.
Finally, having eaten enough, Allyn set his plate on the floor under the bench, leaned back, and surveyed the other guests. He knew he was looking for the man he'd seen earlier, but still, when he suddenly appeared not ten feet away, Allyn was shocked. He started to stand as the man looked directly at him, the gaze of his piercing slate-gray eyes meeting Allyn's own light brown. The man held up his hand to forestall him, then turned and vanished into the throng of dancers.
Allyn was on his feet seconds later, pushing his way through the crowd, ignoring protests from some of the people as he bumped into them.
Where are you? How can you disappear so quickly? And why do I care? He had no answer to the last question, only knowing he felt compelled to find the stranger.
At last he reached the far side of the ballroom. Ahead of him, the man strode forcefully toward the exit. Then, for an instant, he turned to look at Allyn. Allyn bit back a gasp as primal fear flooded him. He's evil. Pure evil. And yet... Shuddering, unable to take his gaze off the man, Allyn watched him walk through the doorway and out of sight.