Valentine stared down from the tree, clinging to the trunk with all her strength. If she had her wings, she wouldn’t have had to climb the damn thing. This was so below her station. She was a daughter of Cupid, a step down from a god. She was meant to fly, not scramble up a tree like a monkey. How demeaning.
She’d no choice. Her father had plucked her wings and fired her from the family business. Screw, Cupid. She’d prove him wrong! Val tightened her grip and shifted her position leaning out further.
They were still too buried behind the branches. No clear shot. It didn’t mean she couldn’t see them—each unaware the other existed. They were the ultimate challenge, the most unlikely of mates. Her targets, an old woman of perhaps seventy and a man of maybe five years the woman’s senior, who both occupied an otherwise empty, outdoor plaza.
The mature woman sat silently, eating her predictable, tuna fish sandwich with extra lettuce, hold the tomato, tuna and mayo. She sat there every day—same time—same sandwich—same table.
Dressed head to toe in green except for a big flowered hat, the woman appeared to be in bloom with every flower imaginable. A bird landed on the table and she plucked some of the crust from her sandwich, hand-feeding the Chickadee.
The man—he too was cursed to routine. A neat freak and owner of the sandwich shop. He hated the summer. He hated people in general. Old, crotchety and seriously needing to get laid, one wouldn’t find a cooler character.
He kept busy, raking a broom back and forth across a sidewalk he’d already swept four times in the last hour. Val shuffled further out on the branch. Her fingers now barely made contact with the rough bark on the aged walnut.
The limb dipped under her weight and she began to wobble. Val held her breath until the branch stopped moving, carefully drawing her hand away from the trunk. Slowly she reached back for an arrow.
She lifted her bow, nocked her arrow and drew back. The branch began to move again. Up and down the branch bounced, her heart bounced against her tonsils with each drop, and thumped into her stomach with each up lift. She wobbled back and forth, refusing to let go of her bow or take her eye off her target. Finally stopped and she regained her balance.
One second longer and she’d be on her ass. She could really use her wings, but the only way she was going to get them back was to prove her father wrong. That meant bagging the big one, the perfect means to prove to her family, a long line of Cupids, of which she was the only female ever born, she was up to the task.
She eyed the big one. Two more feet and he’d see it, the plastic fork she’d wedged into a crevice in the walk. It was irresistible. The perfect trap.
He stopped sweeping and zeroed in on it. Val smiled.
He leaned his broom against a table, walked over to the offending utensil and stared down as though wishing would make it go away.
“Come on, come on. Pick it up.” Val groaned and huffed her bangs off her forehead. “Pick—it—up.”
He bent over, displaying his bony ass like a great big bull’s eye. Finally! She poked her tongue from the side of her mouth as she focused on the shot that would put her back in dad’s good graces. Steady. She drew in a soft breath and blew it out slowly; waiting to take the shot the moment she emptied her lungs.
A bird took the same moment to land on her perch. The branch began to bounce again. Val’s fingers slipped on her draw and the arrow shot into the air. She didn’t get a chance to see where it landed. The next thing she knew, gravity snatched her from her perch and she plummeted toward the ground, hitting half a dozen branches on the way down.
She landed with a thud on top of a warm mountain of muscle.
“Ow!” The muscle shoved her off. “What the hell are you doing up in the tree?”
Val startled. He’d seen her? Perhaps he was talking to someone else. She sat up and looked around but there was no one else in the area. She turned toward her impact cushion and her heart jumped. Dark hair, dark eyes and more than a mouth-watering portion of manly muscle.
“I’m not talking to myself.” The man glared at her.
Val blinked when she realized he truly was addressing her. “Sorry. I was…” What was a good excuse? “Bird watching.” And why should she have to have an excuse? Cupids were invisible when they worked.
“You were spying on someone over there.”
Her eyes popped wide. “Was not.”
“Then what kind of bird were you watching?”
“A…” What kind of bird? “A…”
“I knew it.”
“A purple-throated, warbling eagle.” Hah!
“There’s no such thing.”
“Is too.” Wasn’t there? She could bluff. How could he possibly…
He rose to his feet and dusted off his uniform. Fish and Game peeked back at her from his name tag along with his name. Officer Infernos?
He could. Shit.
He looked down at the bow in her hands and back up. “Poaching?”
“Oh no,” she shook her head. “I wasn’t…”
“Can I see your hunting license?”
“Hunting license?” Cupids didn’t have hunting licenses. This was stupid. He shouldn’t even be able to see her. “I don’t have one.”
“Then I’m going to have to confiscate your bow and arrows.”
“What?” Val scrambled to her feet. “You can’t take my bow.” She eyed his bare head. Thick dark hair. A set of horns poked through the wavy mass. She shook her head and looked again. “You’re horny.”
“Excuse me?” His eyes dilated and his nostrils flared.
“Um.” Heat flooded her face. That so hadn’t come out the way she’d meant it. Not that Cupids didn’t have voracious appetites when it came to sex, but that was the last thing on her mind. He’d seen her and that could only mean one thing. Add the horns and well…“I meant your head. That’s why you can see me. You’re not human.”
He swiped his Smokey-the-Bear hat from the ground and crammed it onto his head. He snatched the bow and her quiver from her grasp. “Crazy people shouldn’t have weapons.”
“I’m not crazy. I know what I saw. You have horns.” She reached for the bow and he moved it away. “Give that back!”
She lunged again and ended up chest to chest with Fish and Game’s finest. Val tipped her head back and looked into his burnt chocolate eyes. He stared back, not saying a thing.
Her heart began to thump in time with his. He was taller than he’d looked from when she’d been on the ground. On the, you-have-to-be-this-tall-to-get-on-this-ride-scale, he more than fit the requirement. “Please?” She pouted, giving him her most seductive look.
“No.” He stepped back. “Your I.D? You do have identification?”
“Of course.” She yanked her passport from the folds of her tunic.
He grabbed it and looked from her picture to her face and back. “Venetian. Figures.” He turned and walked over to a truck parked on the side of the plaza. Val scrambled to collect herself and dashed after him. “Please, you have to understand. I need that.”
He tossed her bow and arrows into his truck and climbed in. He put her passport on a clipboard and began to scrawl information on a form.
“Please.” How could he be so heartless? A Cupid without their bow wasn’t a Cupid. They were just some blonde, incredibly cute, but useless, angel. “I’ll give you anything you want.”
“You can start by paying this.” He crammed a citation into her hand with her passport. He lifted his fingers to his brim and tipped his hat. “Ma-am.” His truck pulled away from the curb, leaving her soaking in the burnt-oil fumes of his vehicle’s exhaust.
Val glanced down at the slip. Five hundred dollars! He’d fined her five hundred dollars? “You bastard!” She jumped up and down. Now not only did she have to steal her bow back, she had to get a job. She was on the last of her pocket change. Why? Why couldn’t things go easy just once? Was that too much to ask?
Val watched him disappear. He wasn’t getting away that easy. If anyone knew anything about stalking quarry, it was a Cupid. The Cupid name was synonymous with tracking prey. Val grabbed her pack from under some vegetation where she’d hidden it. She unzipped and reached in.
Her tunic provided her invisibility—well, most times it provided invisibility but not with Mr. Personality. If she was going to merge into the general population, she had to blend. And that meant she needed to dress as one of the natives.
She shook out a pink, gray and white camouflage mini-skirt and a white baby tee that proclaimed in big bold letters, “Here Comes Trouble”.
When in Rome… She dropped her tunic and wiggled into the short skirt and tiny tee, whose bottom failed to reach her waist, leaving a sliver her midriff exposed. Val grabbed a pair of cork-soled wedges, slipped them on and stuffed her malfunctioning tunic in her pack. He shouldn’t have been able to see her regardless what he was. Something was definitely off. Perhaps her father had taken more than her wings?
Now if she could find her wayward arrow, she could find her bow. The arrow placed on top of a lover’s seat would always spin and point toward her enchanted quiver and bow.
She cupped her hand over her eyes and stared out over the plaza. A bench where couples necked would be a good start. There was a fountain… A crowd had begun to gather around the fountain in the plaza that had been all but empty before. What gives? Val rose up on her toes but could see nothing. Other than climbing the tree again, which there was no way in Hades she was doing that, she’d have to get closer to look.
Still early in the morning, something attracted attention. In her line of business, that was never good. It also happened to be the direction her misguided arrow had flown. Yeah, depending on what it hit, it could be real bad. She’d better get down there.
The local wildlife was getting way too wild. If she’d had wings, he’d swear she was an angel. Her blonde ringlets had been too perfect, tumbling around her shoulders in a sexy riot like Aphrodite gone bad. Baby-blue eyes and a Cupid’s bow mouth complemented her heart-shaped face. And a toga? In this day and age? It could mean one thing. Crazy, hot chick or a college student out on a dare.
If he hadn’t come along when he did, she’d have shot the sandwich shop owner, old man Winters, in the ass, which would make her the crazy, hot chick.
Dameon touched one of the arrow tips in the quiver and drew his finger back. Warmth spread through him. Maybe he should go back and make sure she was okay?
He shook his head and threw off the strange feeling that invaded. No. He had things to do and that didn’t include chasing after escaped mental patients, no matter how cute. And she was attractive, otherwise his horns wouldn’t have come out. She’d nailed it when she’d blurted out he was horny, but jumping angelic nuts wasn’t on his list of to-dos. Not today.
Not tomorrow. Not ever.
He’d already packed his schedule and somehow he’d even managed to work in a couple of hours of sleep. Then she’d come along and fouled up what would have been a desperately needed nap. Now as he came off the night shift, he’d have to file a report on the poacher, lock up the confiscated evidence and if he was lucky, hit his mattress for a mini snooze.
With all the hunters he’d run out of the area this week, he’d need it, as November rolled around and the annual animal massacres had commenced. Since most of the animal population around the town consisted of weres, the last thing he needed was one of them getting shot and their hide tacked up on the wall or used for a rug. Besides, he had a thing for fluffy bunnies and innocent animals, not just the supernatural kind. He be damned if anyone killed them.
By all means, he should have arrested her, but for some reason, he didn’t. He couldn’t explain his actions. Instincts told him not to, and he’d learned over the years to listen to them. Dameon turned down the street where his little bungalow was located.
Shower—report—bed. No time for angels.
Val sauntered into the plaza outside the town hall. The crowd had doubled in a matter of minutes. She jumped up and down behind the crowd, trying to get a glimpse of whatever held their attention. A woman with small children spun around and dragged her kids away.
“Disgusting,” she huffed as she brushed past.
Val stopped her. “What is it?”
The woman turned. “Vandals. Someone added to David.”
“The fountain statue. The reproduction of Michelangelo’s David?” The woman raised a brow as though what she spoke about was blatantly obvious.
“Not from around here.” Val smiled and glanced down at a dark-haired little girl with big eyes who hung on her every word, waiting to see if she’d blurt out whatever it was that had her mother’s panties in a wad. “Just got into town this morning.”
“Oh.” The woman frowned. “Please don’t take that adornment as any indication what our community is like. We’re upstanding citizens—civilized—for the most part.” She glanced over her shoulder and gave a snort before she turned back to Val. “Welcome to our little town.”
“Thank you.” Val rose up on her toes and tried to peek over the crowd. “I’m sure it only was mischievous kids. Every town has them,” Val said and looked into the woman’s amber eyes—the most unusual color she’d ever seen. Something about this place…
“Well,” the woman huffed and tightened her grip on her children’s hands, “their parents ought to keep them on a leash. You don’t see my little pups prowling around unsupervised.” The woman stormed off with her children in tow.
“On a leash? Pups? You’d think they were animals,” Val muttered and elbowed her way closer. She broke through the crowd and emerged in front of the fountain.” Val gasped. “Great Zeus.” Her father would kill her if he found out. David stood proud in the middle, looking into the distance as though he were expecting someone... A very good replica, except—well, her arrow had enhanced certain features.
David had a boner.
Cupids were supposed to be discreet and that was about as un-discreet as one could get. How was she going to explain this? She eyed the statue’s erection.
She wasn’t. She was going to grab the evidence and run. Val kicked off her wedges and eyed the statue. She could really use invisibility right now, but wishing wasn’t going to fix the problem. Val sucked in a breath and worked her way toward the pool that surrounded the statue. Not too deep. She lifted her leg to step over the side and into the water, freezing in place when a bird landed on David’s penis and began to squawk. Val set her foot back down and leaned forward, looking closer.
The bird turned and flapped its wings, fixing her with a beady little stare. She’d seen that condescending look before, had grown up with it. Shit, shit, shit. That bird wasn’t a bird, it was her brother, and her father would have full disclosure by sundown. If he found out she’d lost her bow and arrows, there’d be Hades to pay. She had to get them back and quick, before her father came to town.
She spun around and spotted a sporting goods store. She wasn’t getting her arrow back now that her brother was around and she sure as hell couldn’t wait for him to leave. She’d have to find her bow the old-fashioned way and ask. If anyone would know where she could locate the yummy, albeit grouchy, fish and game guy, it would be someone in the sporting goods store. After all, they should sell hunting licenses.