Romeo & Juliet (Book 1 of Shakesbear: Shifters of Verona) by Lily Cahill
Small, white lights were draped through the magnolia trees at the edges of the garden, shining with just enough light to see the man standing at the center.
His back was to her, his shoulders heaving like he’d run miles, not the dozen or so yards from the ballroom. And … and Jules could have sworn she heard him growl.
Jules stopped so suddenly, she nearly tumbled backward. A gasp sucked down the back of her throat, loud enough that the man spun on his heavy black boots. His face was etched in stone, every feature hard and unforgiving. Instinct demanded that Jules leave, and now.
But under that instinct was a need just as powerful. A need to stay. To get closer.
Jules didn’t move. She had always been a dutiful daughter, following exactly what Carp expected of her as a Carpathian. It was why she’d dropped out of college, after all; Carp told her to.
No, not just that. He needed her back home. For her entire life, it’d just been her and Carp. The powerful man might not have said the words exactly, but Jules knew he missed her. So when he’d called and said her place was back at home, that it was time she took up her position in the family, she’d agreed without hesitation. Or, at least, mostly without hesitation.
Besides, she was getting married. She didn’t need a degree. That’s what she reminded herself whenever the ache of missing college and her friends there grew too acute.
And yet. Standing in this garden in the dark with this stranger, Jules felt a thrill of exhilaration like she had those first weeks away on her own at college.
The stranger broke the silence between them. “Shouldn’t you be getting back to your betrothed?”
The sharpness of his voice cut through Jules. And more than sharpness. Hurt. It wove through every syllable, even as he glared at her.
“I …,” Jules started. Goodness, she could barely speak over the pounding in her chest. “Who are you?”
The man stalked closer. “I am your enemy.”
Jules stumbled back a step, but caught herself. The man glowered, and his hands at his sides were fisted. Her enemy. Her enemies were the Romeros. But he didn’t look like Benedict Romero; and the Romero heir, Will, had been months at sea, according to Ros. Whoever he was, he must be loyal to the Romeros, if he considered her an enemy.
“You don’t run from your enemy?” the man demanded. He took another step closer, but Jules only drew herself up taller. “You don’t run back to your tyrant of a father and your fiancé?”
She should. She really should. But she didn’t move. It felt almost as if magic rooted her to the spot. But the air was mundane, devoid of the telltale disruption of spellwork, save for the low, ever-present hum of the wards around Avon that kept people from shifting to their animal forms or using their magic. She should know, she’d helped strengthen those wards years ago with her own talents as a witch and was now the only one able to do any magic on the grounds of the estate.
Jules lifted her chin and stared at the man. His face was still partially hidden behind his black mask, but his eyes practically glowed.
“I will say who is and isn’t my enemy. And I say you are not.”
He stepped closer. Close enough that Jules could smell the ocean on him. “Am I not?” His voice held a challenge that Jules desperately wanted to meet.
“You are not.”
Closer still. “Then what am I, Jules Carpathian?”
What was he? Shivers erupted over Jules’ skin at the same moment that heat exploded inside her core. Jules swallowed hard and stared up at the stranger, not daring to allow herself to put words to what her body was demanding. Her tongue darted along the seam of her lip, and the man groaned.
And then he was there, right there. He swiped the pad of his thumb against her lips, his skin rough. But oh God, the emotion she felt in just that small touch, it nearly made her gasp.
“Tell me you want me,” the man growled, his voice deep in his chest.
And she would have. She would have told him that and more.
But there was suddenly a shout. Then the garden burst with Carpathian guards.