Life doesn’t always turn out as we hope. Some fortunes we just can’t avoid. And some of those unavoidable chances threaten the very fabric of our reality.
Samantha Gollet has lived her life protecting the downtrodden and fighting the good fight, but outside the mystical reservation, she finds her life becoming increasingly attached to Darrius Halls, one of Chicago’s mystic businessmen which means fighting his fight.
But when she gives birth to a magically-conceived child, her priorities change. And when the Djinni High Counsel come to take said child, Sam has no choice but to jump through their hoops no matter what Halls says.
The question is: When her child is safe, will Halls still have her under his control?
I’m a mother, I’m a mother, I’m a mother. No matter how many times Sam chanted her new mantra, it never settled in. It never felt like truth.
The fact that she stood on the balcony overlooking the first ever mystical gentleman’s club probably didn’t help. The fact that she ran said gentleman’s club definitely didn’t help.
Men from near and far came to rub shoulders with magical women and experience their powers. Oh, sure, it was about as illegal as any business could be. According to the front pages, all mystics were safely corralled in the various Reservations. Little did the general public realize, the metropolitans were still teeming with mystics.
The government knew. Hell, Sam spotted a judge, a high-ranking aide to the city mayor, and two detectives from where she stood. The government knew and didn’t care, so long as the mystics kept their heads down and stayed in the shadows.
If only Sam was good at that.
Granted, her penchant for getting into trouble had brought her to Mr. Halls’ attention, which in turn, gave her the chance to make suggestions to him, which resulted in her being put in charge of the throngs of women who worked for him. Before Sam entered their lives, they stood on the corners and sold their bodies.
Now. Well, now they sold their bodies in a fancy club—a broken down old theater brought back to life. Some of the women had pulled away from the old job, just dancing or carting drinks. Some though chose to continue to offer sex for money. Others had found other ways to sell their powers without selling their bodies–at least not in a sexual way. Now, though, they got all the extra money rather than just what little trickled down to them.
And in the end, Mr. Halls was making money hand over fist with Sam’s new scheme. As it turned out, human men of stature liked to be seen by other men of stature with a fae or vampire woman. It seemed the humans considered it some sort of bragging right to say they had been brave enough to sleep with a vampire. Sam didn’t understand it, but she didn’t need to to extort money from it.
Sam lowered her hand to her rounded belly, her fingers caressing the fine silk of her dress. Had someone asked her a year ago whether she would ever wear a silk dress and heels, she would have laughed in their face. Now, she wore heels more often than not. After all, she had appearances to maintain now that she worked within Halls’ inner circle. As to the pregnancy…
There was no easy way to explain away that change. It hadn’t been planned, to say the least. It might have been less surprising had she had sex sometime in the recent past. The child growing inside her—or whatever it was—had been given by a Djinni to one of the fae prostitutes. When the woman died, having angered the Djinni, the Djinni transferred the new life from the dead prostitute to Sam. Or at least that was the working theory.
Sam appreciated the desire to keep the innocent life alive, but did it have to grow inside her? She caressed her large stomach again.
Not a mom yet. Her conscious niggled at her; sort of a lie. But she ignored it. Not a mom yet. Soon. But any day she would be—again, the working theory. The doctor in Mr. Halls’ organization guessed that the fetus had been planted inside her somewhere beyond the moment of conception, but couldn’t narrow it down to exactly when she would be due. Then again, they didn’t even know what the child was—genetically or magically speaking.
Sam lowered her hand to the furry head resting on the railing beside her. Since shortly after the battle with the Djinni, Breena had remained as her wolf self. Sam couldn’t deny her constant companion made her look even more threatening when the need arose. She couldn’t blame her friend for taking refuge in her other-half considering what her first night in Chicago had been like—there was a lot of blood and a dismembered Djinni.
She gave Breena’s head a little scratch, digging in behind the werewolf’s ear. Breena let her tongue roll out of her mouth and hang free as she looked up at Sam with all the adoration of a well-trained golden retriever. Sam frowned. While she wasn’t against having a dog, she wanted more for her friend. Remaining as a wolf deprived Breena of so much life, and it was against her friend’s character to hide from her fears.
But it wasn’t like Sam could talk to her about it. It was hard to have a dialogue with a dog. Sam gave a long sigh and patted Breena’s head one last time before turning her gaze back to the landscape before her.
The theater had been derelict when she approached Halls about her idea for the women. It had taken some convincing, but when she reminded Halls of her work for him thus far, he yielded. Six months later—with construction crews working overtime—the Lion’s Den opened.
The stage remained, surrounded by seats. In the back of the theater, they removed the theater seating, elevated the floor and put in a bar with tables and booths overlooking the stage. Many of the rooms in the basement had been turned into small rooms for private entertainment.
After only two months, they were breaking even and Mr. Halls gave her complete control over the club and the girls. She had proven herself both in creativity and steady accounting. He had no problem trusting her with his multi-million-dollar investment. Sam was perhaps the most surprised by his choice. After all, the mystics were only educated up to the age of fifteen within the Reservation. Compared to the humans, she didn’t even have a high-school education.
But that wouldn’t stop her from ruling her small kingdom with an iron fist.
That iron fist continued to caress her belly, trying to calm the squirming infant growing inside her. While she worked throughout the night, it liked to roll and kick, as though it had consumed caffeine, even though Sam avoided the drink like a good mother should.
A voice announced over the loudspeaker as the thrumming music died down: “Turn your eyes toward the stage and give it up for ‘The Twin Peaks.’”
Two lithe fae sauntered onto the stage, highlighted by two pink follow spots. The crowd, both in the theater and the bar, clapped, calling out or whistling to the dancers. The fae in question had proven to be extremely agile. A few dance lessons and they were bringing in the big bucks with the headline show.
Sam turned her eyes away from the dance floor, glancing at the werewolf resting on her sofa before examining the women working their way around the club—selling drinks and private dances alike. Of course, none of their girls sold their bodies, but if they wanted to make a few extra dollars, there were rooms available for private entertaining. What was done in there was none of Sam’s business. The fact that the girls available for private entertaining wore red outfits instead of black was also none of Sam’s business. It was entirely volunteer based; Sam just gave them a safe space to make the extra money.
Motion drew her eyes to the entrance, where a few bouncers blocked the doorway. Potential clientele stood beyond the doorway, one of them yelling at the bouncers and waving his arms around while his friends seemed to encourage him. The floor manager hurried to the door as heads began to turn. Within seconds, the manager had the disruptive man in the foyer with the doors closed. Curiosity tickled Sam’s senses, but she left it to the floor manager.
One of her main rules was to let people do their damn jobs. She didn’t need to intervene unless they asked her to.
As it turned out, they did need her to intervene. It only took a moment or two before the floor manager poked his head through the doors and looked up at the balcony. Sam gave him a nearly imperceptible nod. He opened the doors to the foyer and guided the angered man toward the elevator. Two other bouncers stood in front of the doorway, keeping the man’s friends out of the club.
Sam heard the elevator ding and the door swish open. She gave them another few seconds before slowly turning to look at the newcomers, her face a mask of stone.
Working in Darrias Halls’ organization, she had quickly learned the value of the dramatic.
Between her two bouncers stood Carter Boeman, a lieutenant for Mr. Deats, Halls’ primary enemy. Sam let out a private little sigh. Whenever Deats’ men appeared at her club, trouble always followed. Sam’s floor manager stood beside the trio. She nodded toward the elevator, dismissing him.
A low growl came from Breena, the werewolf showing their enemy her canines. Carter’s upper lip rose, revealing his human-shaped teeth. Sam wondered who between them was more dominant if they truly had it out. They were close enough that it would take a fight to the death to find out, but she would never let that happen. Sam lowered her hand to her friend’s head, and Breena settled.
She waited one more beat before speaking. “Well, Mr. Boeman. However did you know I was bored tonight?”
The werewolf gave her another display of his teeth, the look balancing between a smile and a growl. In response, Sam let her gift extend itself toward Carter, taking a sip from his mystical energies. He quickly felt it and dropped all aggression.
“Much better,” she purred, dusting off her hands as though they had grown dirty by her actions. “Now, why did you barge into my club?”
“My girl Camille is here.”
Sam forced her painted lips up into a smile. “Camille, of course. She’s a very good worker. I don’t see why that required you to throw a tantrum outside my door.”
“I want her back. She ain’t one of your girls.”
“Ahh. Well, Mr. Boeman, Camille came to me.”
“She ain’t yours!”
“Agreed. Camille belongs to no one. She works for me. That is it.”
“But your girls won’t let me near her.”
Sam smiled. Whenever her girls stood up for each other, she smiled. “On a personal note, I’m happy to hear that. As to business, it is none of mine whether Camille wants to be with you or not. Though I feel I can safely guess that she does not want to be with you. Take your romantic issues elsewhere, Mr. Boeman.”
“Mr. Deats is gonna hear ‘bout this!” he snapped as the bouncers began pulling him back toward the elevator.
“Mr. Boeman, if Mr. Deats cares about your relationship status, send him straight to me.”
He let out a string of curses as they tossed him into the elevator. Sam sighed and moved back to her enormous desk. Breena followed her and took up a place on the large claw-foot couch positioned near the desk.
Sam wanted nothing more than to go home, but there was work to be done.
Sam’s eyes burned when she finally began clearing off her desk. The music was gone, the green-tinged fluorescent lights were switched on, and the customers had left. The waitresses were cleaning up the last of the mess, the dancers were wiping off their makeup, and the manager was counting the till. Soon the janitors would be in to clean for tomorrow’s next round of men.
Staring down through the glass that separated the balcony from below, Sam caught sight of her own reflection. Her white hair was pristinely styled in a way that was both masculine and feminine all at the same time. Though she didn’t try to cover up her pale skin, her eyes were darkened with layers of makeup and her lips were painted red. She didn’t recognize the person who stared back at her.
“So much for that punk kid who ran away from the Res.”
Sam wasn’t just talking about the pregnancy, though that had produced a large—and growing—change in her. She had never even worn makeup until she began dealing with Halls. Now, she was a painted doll dressed in silk. Until now, she had dealt with her problems by fighting, using her powerful gift to beat people into submission. Now, all she had to do was threaten them and they submitted. In just a few short months she had become a powerful player in the underground ring of mystics. All it had cost her was herself.
Before she could make herself any more depressed, she turned away from the glass just as the elevator dinged. Her chief bouncer approached her.
“Kyle just turned in his notice, boss.”
Sam let out a sigh, shaking off her emotions. “Did he give a reason for leaving?” She grabbed her long jacket and slipped into it.
“He said he got a scholarship and is going to school full-time next semester.”
A smile spread across Sam’s features. “I’m glad to hear that. Start looking for a replacement and give Kyle a parting bonus.”
“Will do, boss. Night.”
She wasn’t required to give such bonuses, but her reputation for generosity brought more and more mystics to her club. The more mystics she had under her wings, the more mystics were safe and yet still not trapped in the Reservation. Besides that, her generosity and her willingness to defend them against any enemy produced their unwavering loyalty. Somehow, without specifically setting out to do so, she had created a family within the staff of the Lion’s Den.
Other leaders in her staff checked in with her as she prepared to leave. She answered their questions as she worked her way toward the exit, knowing her car had likely been waiting for at least an hour. Breena trailed along, her long tail wagging lethargically. She was tired too.
Other members of the closing crew waved to her as she reached the main level and headed toward the door. She waved back politely, giving them a smile or a reply as necessary.
Ethan met her at the door and escorted her to the black sedan waiting for her at the curb. He opened the door, and she and Breena hopped in. Giving her a salute, Ethan closed the door and thumped the car twice. The driver sped off into the empty street. The street was usually empty before five in the morning.
Sam had wanted to stay with her girls who were housed just south of Chinatown, but Halls had insisted on buying her a residence. She had argued but quickly lost the fight. Sam finally gave him a few limitations and released Halls to shop. She had wanted something within a mile of where her girls lived and within ten miles of the club. The distance from the club had been forced to grow when he pointed out just how seedy the neighborhood was. She conceded his point.
The one thing she forgot to restrict was the budget. One and a half million dollars later, she was the proud owner of a three-thousand-square-foot condo. Again, she had argued but lost to Halls requirements. He insisted she kept up appearances if she intended to work in his inner circle.
The car came to a stop, and the driver hurried around to open her door. She glided out, followed by Breena. The Sam of the Reservation would never have glided. She was more likely to fall and skip like a stone across a millpond. Sam missed the old Samantha.
As usual, the concierge worked to open the door and keep his distance from Breena all at the same time. The few other residents who had seen the “dog” had had similar reactions. In fact, there had been a notice from the condo associate board insisting she got rid of the “dog.” After seeking Halls’ advice on the matter, she had simply paid them off.
Sam and Breena reached their floor and the elevator doors opened. She spotted a man down the hall exiting his own condo. She tried to think back and remember what her neighbor looked like, but she couldn’t. Still, she didn’t remember him being quite so muscular. The man passed her with a towel over his shoulder and a bottle in his hand. He gave her a smile before catching sight of Breena. He skirted around the dog and entered the elevator, no doubt heading toward the building’s large gym.
Inside her own home, Sam kicked off her tall heels and dumped her briefcase on the entrance table. I carry a briefcase, she thought mournfully.
Sam moved into the main living space and on into her modern kitchen. She pulled out a fresh steak and tossed it to Breena. Breena caught it in the air and went to town on it. Sam smiled—the sad, heartbroken type of smile reserved for those little flashes of light within the darkness. After Breena had finished half the steak, Sam turned back to the fridge and pulled out her own breakfast—something prepared by the housekeeper she had hired. The woman came during the day and prepared three meals, two snacks, and cleaned any messes Sam or Breena made. She didn’t comment on Sam’s request for high-quality, uncooked beef or the fact Sam’s “dog” had its own bedroom, including a queen bed.
Sam ate the breakfast standing up, not tasting any of it. From the kitchen, she hurried up the stairs to her bedroom. Breena followed, going into her own room and jumping up onto the bed. In no time, Sam was in her pajamas and counting sheep.
Sam woke with a start. The clock on her bedside table read nine a.m., still early considering how late she worked the night before. Her alarm wasn’t scheduled to go off for hours. Feeling uncomfortable in her own skin, Sam climbed out of bed and made her way down to the main level. She had just reached the bottom of the stairs when a sharp pang cut across the underside of her belly.
She cried out in surprise at the sudden intensity and doubled over. The pain lasted for an eternity and a half. Finally, it died down long enough for Sam to catch her breath—less than a minute—before striking up again. Sam screamed, amazed at what her body was doing to her. She had understood labor to be a slow process that took hours to build up, and yet it already felt as though she was being torn in half.
“Ma’am?” came a male voice from beyond her front door.
Sam prepared to release the railing of the staircase and hobble over to the door when another pain cut into her belly. She screamed again, and suddenly the polite voice turned into a heavy thud. Two more thuds and the door frame gave way, the latch cutting through it. The burly man from before rushed to her side, his warm hand landing on her back.
“Shit,” he cried as he realized what was happening. He pulled out his phone and began to dial 9-1-1. Sam reached out, grabbing his wrist before he could hit “send.”
“Private doctor,” she groaned as the pain started up again.
Luke’s brows puckered in a tight frown. “What’s the number?”
In stuttering breaths, she told him the number, finishing with, “Just tell him the baby is coming. He’ll know.”
The stranger put the phone to his ear, repeating her words a second later. He hit end and tucked it back into his pocket. At that moment, Breena chose to appear. She rushed to Sam’s side, growling all the way.
“Breena,” Sam gasped. “Stop!”
To her amazement, the werewolf obeyed.
“Cool dog,” the man said. “Okay, let’s get you somewhere more comfortable. How ‘bout the couch?”
Sam nodded. They worked their way to her living room, her water breaking just before they lowered her to the couch.
“Oh, no,” she tried not to wail, casting a nervous glance at her momentary savoir.
“It’s fine,” he said calmly.
Sam made a mental note as he held her hand and helped her lower to the couch. Most men, she figured, may not have been so calm. Who was this mysterious stranger? The man stuffed a few pillows behind her to keep her propped up and draped a light blanket over her legs.
“What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Luke,” he answered. “Do you mind if I look since your water broke?”
Sam frowned. “Luke… do you…know what… you’re doing?”
“A little. I use to be a combat medic overseas. Granted, I didn’t deliver a lot of babies in Iraq.”
Sam nodded, finally understanding why he was so calm as another wave of pain rippled across her stomach. The man began to spread her legs and pull her soaked underwear down to her ankles.
Had Sam not been caught in the throes of another contraction, her most intimate parts exposed to basically a stranger, she would have laughed. Luke spread her legs and flicked on the flashlight on his phone, using it to examine her. The contraction subsided, giving Sam a chance to breathe.
“I usually expect a man to buy dinner before…” she tried to joke.
Luke grinned but kept his eyes on whatever was happening between her legs. Finally, he looked up at her. “Looks like you’re gonna have a baby.”
Sam, feeling another contraction coming, just flipped him off. He laughed and did something to her. She groaned through the pain.
“Okay, Sam,” Luke said, his eyes on the business. “With the next contraction, I need you to push.”
She obeyed, feeling the pain in her groin increase. She screamed, and Breena whimpered, jumping up onto the roomy couch and giving her face a little lick. Had Sam been able to, she would have cursed at her friend.
“Woah, Sam. Stop pushing.”
He did something else—also causing pain—during her brief break between contractions. The next one built, and she pushed. Before she knew it, she felt a rush through her body and the pain eased. It wasn’t gone, but it was nothing compared to what she had just experienced.
Luke looked up at her, his brown eyes bright with emotion. “Appears to be a little girl to me.”
“Oh,” Sam sighed, unsure what to think or feel. She laid her head back on the pillow, overcome with fear and excitement all at the same time.
Breena climbed to her feet and stretched her neck out to look between Sam’s legs. “Breena. C’mon. You can see her when I’m not spread eagle.”
Breena gave a little whimper but stepped back to sit down on the sofa.
“You always talk to your dog like she understands you?” Luke asked.
“Most werewolves can understand speech even in wolf form,” Sam said to the ceiling, too tired to censor herself. When she looked down at Luke, he was in a staring contest with Breena. “Not smart to try to stare down a werewolf,” Sam added to save his life.
Luke quickly turned his eyes to her. “I always thought the government’s line about the reservations was a bunch of bullshit.”
“What line is that?”
“That mystics only live in the Reservation.”
Sam nodded. The conversation stilled when a tiny wail filled the room. A moment later, Luke lifted the infant up to Sam’s arms. He had tied off and cut the cord. The slimy baby continued to cry as Sam struggled to hold it.
“First child, I take it?” Luke was still grinning.
“First everything.” Sam stared down at the wrinkled face, amazed to realize the little red thing would one day grow into an adult. It was then that Sam felt the weight of parenthood drop onto her shoulders. Logically, she had known it was coming, but it was very different to be faced with the shrieking reality.
It’s not like Sam had read the baby books given to her. She hadn’t even decorated the nursery or bought the baby stuff—Halls had hired someone to that.
“Miss Gollet?” called a voice from the doorway.
“Sam?” called another. A second later, Halls, the doctor, and a few bodyguards entered her living room, only to stop short as they realized what they were looking at.
“It’s a girl,” Sam said, looking up at the men and ignoring Luke’s look of confusion.