Anything living dumb enough to step into the current had to wave bye-bye to the bloody stumps of its legs severed just below the knee. Most people used ley taxis, rough, wooden platforms cobbled together, but anything sturdy enough to support a body would do in a pinch. A vehicle. A surfboard. A piece of an old roof. I'd seen a guy ride on a ladder once.

Not something I would try.

Raphael put the car in neutral. We rolled the vehicle across the platform to the ley line. The current jerked before us. I hopped into the cab and Raphael joined me a second later. The car slid into the ley line.

The magic jaws of the current snapped at us. My heart skipped a beat. The Jeep became utterly still, as if it were held immobile and the planet merrily rotated under it, speeding on its way.

Raphael pulled out a paperback and handed it to me. The cover, done back in the time when computer-aided image manipulation had risen to the level of art, featured an impossibly handsome man, leaning forward, one foot in a huge black boot resting on the carcass of some monstrous sea creature. His hair flowed down to his shoulders in a mane of white gold, in stark contrast to his tanned skin and the rakish black patch hiding his left eye. His white, translucent shirt hung open, revealing abs of steel and a massive, perfectly carved chest, graced by erect nipples. His muscled thighs strained the fabric of his pants, which were unbuttoned and sat loosely on his narrow hips, a touch of a strategically positioned shadow hinting at the world's biggest boner.

The cover proclaimed in loud golden letters: The Privateer's Virgin Mistress , by Lorna Sterling.

"Novel number four for Andrea's collection?" I guessed.

Raphael nodded and took the book from my hands. "I've got the other one Andrea wanted, too. Can you explain something to me?"

Oh boy. "I can try."

He tapped the book on his leather-covered knee. "The pirate actually holds this chick's brother for ransom, so she'll sleep with him. These men, they aren't real men. They're pseudo-bad guys just waiting for the love of a 'good' woman."

"You actually read the books?"

He gave me a chiding glance. "Of course I read the books. It's all pirates and the women they steal, apparently so they can enjoy lots of sex and have somebody to run their lives."

Wow. He must've had to hide under his blanket with a flashlight so nobody would question his manliness. Either he really was in love with Andrea or he had a terminal case of lust.

"These guys, they're all bad and aggressive as shit, and everybody wets themselves when they walk by, and then they meet some girl and suddenly they're not uber-alphas; they are just misunderstood little boys who want to talk about their feelings."

"Is there a point to this dissertation?"

He faced me. "I can't be that. If that's what she wants, then I shouldn't even bother."

I sighed. "Do you have a costume kink? French maid, nurse . . ."

"Catholic school girl."

Bingo. "You wouldn't mind Andrea wearing a Catholic school uniform, would you?"

"No, I wouldn't." His eyes glazed over and he slipped off to some faraway place.

I snapped my fingers. "Raphael! Focus."

He blinked at me.

"I'm guessing - and this is just a wild stab in the dark - that Andrea might not mind if once in a while you dressed up as a pirate. But I wouldn't advise holding her relatives for ransom nookie. She might shoot you in the head. Several times. With silver bullets."

An understanding crept into Raphael's eyes. "I see."

"While we're on the subject, maybe you can clear something up for me as well. Suppose there is an alpha male. Suppose he decides he likes a female. How would he go about . . ."

Courting, wooing? What was the right word here?

"Getting into her pants?" Raphael suggested.

"Yes. That."

He leaned back. "Well, you have to understand that boudas aren't jackals, and jackals aren't rats, and rats aren't wolves. Everybody has their own little quirks. But basically it's about proving that you're clever and capable enough and can provide for her and defend her and your cubs, should there be any."

"Does it involve breaking and entering?"

A little smile stretched Raphael's lips. "I see His Majesty made a move. Has he asked you to make him dinner yet?"

I growled. "This isn't about me and Curran."

He laughed softly. "Basically, yes. It's all about breaking and entering. The way the Pack is set up, all land belongs to the Pack as a whole. There is a bit of land around the meeting place of each clan that's traditionally held as that clan's exclusive domain, like those four square miles around Bouda House. It's mostly a courtesy so the clan could meet in private. There is no clan territory and no individual territory, so your house becomes your territory. When you're pursuing a female, you're trying to prove that you're clever enough to get in and out of her territory."


"Like I said, people get really elaborate with it. It's a point of pride. And every clan has their own traditions. Rats are all about food. When Robert, the rat alpha, was trying to get Thomas to notice him, he stuffed his mattress with M&M'S. Direct, but it worked. They've been together for twelve years now. Wolves are all about class and propriety. Let's take Jennifer, the wolf alpha. She has all of those sisters - I think there are six of them altogether - and they meet twice a week for tea. They're English. She happened to mention to one of her friends that her dishes were all chipped and mismatched and she needed a new set. Daniel was courting her at the time. Wolves got that perfect memory thing. Apparently he broke into her house and replaced all of her dishes with an antique set in mint condition. She came home, opened the cabinets, and found everything exactly the way she had arranged it, every cup, every plate, nothing even an inch out of place. Except everything was brand new. She had a cup and a plate in the sink, and he even replaced those and filled them with water exactly the way he found them."

Raphael shrugged. "I thought it was a bit dry myself, but wolf girls raved about it for years.

So classy and elegant and so sublime . . ." He rolled his eyes.

I couldn't resist. "What do boudas do?"

"We try to be funny." His eyes sparkled. "My mom had to go out of town, and while she was gone, my dad glued all of her furniture to the ceiling."

I pictured Aunt B walking into her house and finding all of her furniture upside down on the ceiling. Oh God. I couldn't help grinning. "What did your mom think about that?"

"She was pissed about the cat."

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires