Aspen watched the café from his car, as he had off and on for the past couple of days.
He’d spent nearly a week working with Brianne, together assisting Raine through the dream sequence, then assured her that she was more than capable of supporting Raine through the subsequent visits with the three chosen vampires. They’d easily isolated the best potential candidates as being within a single vampire clan, which was a great sign—usually indicative that they’d zeroed in correctly and that the mating and power exchange would happen.
She’d been concerned when he’d refused to explain where he was going and why, but he didn’t want a single person—even one he trusted as much as Brie—to know of his mission. First of all, he hadn’t wanted to raise any hopes, especially since he was so uncertain of the outcome and really didn’t have any information to share. He also didn’t want to distract her from her first major ritual as Acolyte, particularly since it involved her brother.
Mostly, though, he didn’t want any hint of his quest to get into the wrong hands. The walls had ears, and he wasn’t about to give rival clans any information that could be used against them later on.
It had taken some doing, but he’d finally convinced Gideon to reveal the whereabouts of the entity that had led him to the Blacks, now living as a black mastiff and going by the ironic name of Lucifer. Not the exact location, of course—it had been years ago since Gideon had given the then puppy to a woman as a guardian for her son—but he knew the town they’d lived in, and that the woman had died a few years ago while still living in the same town. It had seemed a good starting point.
Trusting his instincts, he’d driven to the town, which was incidentally very near the vamps’ territory, and spent some time meditating on his memories of that unforgettable voice. The majority of the times he’d reached out, he’d either ended up in front of the café or picturing the café in his mind.
Far be it from him to ignore a hint.
Keeping his eye trained for any sight of a huge black dog, he stepped out of his car and locked it behind him before walking across the street to the café’s entrance.
He paused on the threshold and absorbed what information he could from the room. Mostly non-magical humans. He didn’t sense any other mages, which was good. No sign of the dog—what was he thinking, that the dog would be curled up in a public restaurant taking a nap? Ordering one of the huge cinnamon rolls on display?
Obviously it wasn’t meant to be that easy.
There were a few other people in the room who he couldn’t get an immediate read on, including the trio approaching the door—a large, dark-haired man effortlessly carrying another apparently injured man, and an attractive waiter who smiled at the duo as he hovered alongside them.
He did a mental double-take.
Had he really just thought that about a man?
He stepped back out and held the door for the duo. The one walking gave him a smirk as he passed, and Aspen narrowed his eyes in response. If he had to guess, he’d say demon, but he had no idea about his companion, who didn’t acknowledge Aspen’s presence other than to briefly nod his thanks.
Aspen entered the café and came face to face with the waiter, who turned his attention from the receding couple and focused his warm, welcoming brown eyes on Aspen, only to freeze and gape at him in shock, going bright red.
He was about to ask what was the matter when he got a strong sense of having missed something. He looked back, trying to see the couple who had left, but they were already out of sight.
“Huh.” He faced the waiter—host?—who was visibly trying to compose himself. “Are you okay?”
“Um…yes? Table for one?”
Aspen fought a rare smile, wondering at the urge. But the sight of the young man trying desperately to regain a sense of normality made an impression on him.
“Yes. In the back, please.”
“Good. I mean…right this way.”
He trailed the man towards the rear of the small but bright restaurant. Nearly every table was filled even at what he would have guessed to have been an off hour, past lunch. In fact, from what he recalled of the posted hours he’d checked yesterday, it would be closing within a half an hour.
“Is there still time to order?” he asked as he was seated at the furthest booth in the back. He got another vivid internal nudge and he glanced around, feeling unsettled.
“Yes, yes, of course.” Then the waiter surprised him by brushing his longish, straight dark hair back with one hand then seating himself in the opposite side of the booth. “I’m sorry, I just can’t… Do you know who I am?”
Somehow Aspen didn’t think he meant the question as an amnesiac would. He shook his head silently, using the familiar tactic to encourage the man to continue speaking.
“My name is Locke. I own the café…”
Aspen nodded, knowing this was not the end of his introduction.
“And I think…I’m your mate.”