I damned near fell over. He was like me! “What are you? And am I dancing or not?”
The man spread his arms wide as a cocky grin appeared on his face. “I would love a dance. I’m very talkative, though. I hope that’s okay. You’re some kind of were, aren’t you? You’re purer than a human, that of an animal.”
I took a deep breath and smiled. I put on my best face and gave the man the dance of his dreams. My moves were slow, sensuous, never quite touching him but always teasing that contact. “I am not about to give up my secrets on what I am.”
His eyes drank me in. I could see the desire in them shining through, not just desire for contact, but for connection. “Maybe not yet. What’s your story, Pexie?”
I stopped for a moment, leaned forward at the waist, and looked him dead in the eye. “You did not pay for that, and it is not on the menu.”
As I started to dance again, he smirked, and I had to admit, he was hot. “Your bartender likes to talk.”
I rolled my eyes, of course. It could only have come from him. “I know he does, but he does not know the story. Only one here does, and she will not talk.”
He simply smiled and nodded. “How about I tell you about me first, then. Then, if you feel like talking, you can.”
I smiled softly and nodded in return. “That could be fine. Shall I continue dancing?”
“You’re quite good at it, so I’d say yes,” the man said as he bit his lip and eyed me almost hungrily. Recently, that would have sent cringy tingles up my spine and a desperate need to escape the situation, but here, now… I felt almost like I used to when I would bask in this look.
I blushed deeply, thoughts invading my mind that I had not had in years. Desires were building that I could not trace back to a starting point, and yet they were there. I found myself wanting him, this strange, dark man, but I was also afraid of him, of what he could be. If he ended up being an agent of Estran, I would be dead by morning. My head, my heart, and my body were at odds with each other, but my body was winning out. I slowly moved over his legs, straddling him without touching him, and began moving. His desire was even more prominent now, and I had to refrain from licking my lips at the thought.
“My name is Sani, for starters. I’m Navajo,” he began. Introductions were a good place to start.
“Val, I suppose I could say I am American. I grew up near Miami.” I could not exactly say I was from a hidden island in the Keys and that I grew up in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Val. I like it. So you’re a water child?” He hit the nail on the head there, and I froze for a moment.
As I took a breath and resumed the dance, I hoped he would not notice the momentary lapse in service. “I grew up near the sea, yes.”
Sani simply smiled and pretended like he did not notice. “I’m more of a sky child myself. I enjoyed being up in trees and on mountains.”
The idea of climbing trees always intrigued me, never having climbed one myself. So I cocked my head to one side and looked down at him. “Up in the trees?” I turned slowly, my ass grinding softly above him.
If I could not look at him, hopefully, I would not be too distracted, but when his breath hitched, I almost fell over from the heady need in it. “I did a lot of climbing. It felt natural to be above the ground. Like a bird.”
“Ah. I suppose I know the feeling. I was basically raised in the water,” I replied. This was the most talking I had ever done back here. Most men want the dance silent, or they tried to engage their lips in another manner.
“I grew up a healer, but things changed. My father beat me as a child. He would tie me to trees and whip my chest. Saying he wanted to toughen me up.”
I stopped for a moment and sat down before realizing that I had broken the cardinal rule and sat on him. “Sorry!” I leapt off, sputtering quickly. “I am sorry that happened to you, Sani.”
His smile was soft, as though he had come to terms with the abuse ages ago. “Don’t apologize, Val. You’re free to take a break if you need. But yes, it made me turn to the darkness. I embraced darkness and let it engulf me.”
I sat on the divan across from him and crossed my legs, feeling my muscles relax. “Darkness is everywhere in this city. I seem to be surrounded by it. You are a dangerous man, Sani, that much I can tell, call it animal instinct.”
He leaned forward, the smell of nature and musk wafting with him. I nearly swooned. “I know all about animal instincts. In fact, when you can become any animal, their instincts become your first nature. Yes, Val, I am dangerous, but you like to live dangerously, don’t you?”
“You can become any animal?” My hand went to my hip, where the clasp of my chain was, and I held it. “I used to. I lived dangerously years ago. Things change. I changed.”
“I was offered a unique opportunity a few thousand years ago to become a Skinwalker.” The way he spoke of it, like it was an everyday conversation, yet the idea of a skinwalker always sent chills up my spine.
We were warned as children not to cross paths with walkers. They will murder you for your pelt, hide, or skin so that they could wear it and become the animal we were. “So that is what you want? To get into my skin?” I gasped slightly, feeling like an idiot that I had managed to get myself into this predicament. That I let myself think my resurfacing desires could possibly be borne out.
Sani just shook his head, which truthfully, did not alleviate my fears as much as I wish they would. “Not all stories about us are the truth, Val.”
“You are saying Skinwalker Ranch was not?” I paused for a moment, needing to ask the question, but not really wanting the answer. “What do you want with me, Sani?”
“Oh, Skinwalker Ranch was a joke I played on the mortals for years. The mutilated cows were simply dinner. Something drew me to this city. Something drew me to this club tonight. There was someone…I mean something that led me here, to you.” His reply was simple, and yet I could hear some ring of truth in his words.
I eyed him carefully and leaned forward. “Why?”
“I intend to find out why.” His voice was quiet, as if he did not wish me to hear it.
“Who… who led you here?” I asked, suddenly nervous. If I was being hunted again, I would have to leave New Orleans and never return this time.
“It’s complicated.” Everything was, but I could not let this slide if one of my adversaries had picked up my scent.
“Try me, or you will not like the consequences.” I unclasped the chain but did not unfurl it. I hoped my movements were subtle enough to escape his notice. I had not had any time to train with my whip, and I knew it was detrimental to me to remain untrained.
He laughed slightly. “The spirit of my dead twin brother.” He turned his head to look over his shoulder. I would assume to look at Alo’s spirit. “Yes, Alo, I trust her.”
I nodded understandingly. There was no confusion or hatred or anything in my eyes, only sympathy. “You too…huh?”
He looked at me, stunned. Perhaps most people thought him crazy when he decided to bring this up. “All day, every day, he’s here.”
I sighed and nodded, closing my eyes for a peaceful moment before thinking about Cecelia’s ghost back on board. “My best friend… she committed suicide six years ago. I left New Orleans after that. It is very hard to drown a wereshark, but Ceci managed it. When I came back, her spirit had tied itself to my boat.”
“So… What made her do it?” Sani’s voice was soft, low, and sympathetic.
I let go of the chain and crossed my legs again before leaning back. “We were kidnapped, drugged, and removed from this very booth.”
“Even with my darkness, I couldn’t do that,” he replied softly.
I continued quickly, needing to get this out so that he understood me. “That was not the worst of it. I woke slower than Ceci, tied naked to a chair in a different room, while hearing her ra-ra-… it going on. So, as I said, no longer living dangerously.”
Sani just shook his head and looked down. “Now I’m disgusted.”
I closed my eyes again. “Yes, it is disgusting. It broke me in ways I have not repaired yet, and Ceci, she caught the worst of it. It never happened to me because I freed us, but as she nursed me back to health, I was not helping her come back from the darkness. She drowned herself. She tied her legs together, and threw herself off my boat. She shifted on the way down, the brackish water doing almost as much damage as water passing the wrong way through her gills. I have not forgiven myself for that. And I cannot let myself get distracted from my goal.” My eyes open, a sparkling blue like the Gulf in the sun. “No matter how attractive the man is.”
He looked up, intrigue and sadness dancing in his eyes. “Your goal?”
“Revenge,” I stated simply. Not that it would be a simple matter, though.
The devilish smile that crept across his face sent delicious thoughts to my mind and a flush of warmth through my body. “Now you’re speaking my language.”
I looked at him carefully, trying to gauge his intent. “Why?”
“Revenge is a sweet, sweet thing. Tell me, Val, can I be of assistance to you?” He leaned forward slightly.
“No, I do not think so. I am tracking the man myself, and when I find him, I will make him pay a far worse debt than that of his peon…” I muttered under my breath.”Thinks he can sell me off to the fish markets.” I coughed a little and spoke clearer. “And honestly, I am not sure what you could help with.”
Sani stroked his chin, imitating an evil mastermind, and I nearly laughed. “There’s something about you, Val. I’m just not sure what it is.”
I merely shrugged. “I would not know. I am an easy read, an environmentalist by day, an exotic dancer by night.”
“I have a feeling I’ll be seeing a lot of you,” he replied and leaned back, a cockiness in his voice that sent me quivering.
I perked up at the thought, almost hoping that he was right. “Oh? What gives you that idea? Other than you know where I work.”
Sani threw his head back, almost in a laugh. “Alo here thinks you spend quite a bit of time in the darker areas of this city.”
I waved my arms around me sarcastically. “What makes you think that?”
“I told you, Alo said it, not me. He’s normally right.”
“And what makes him so sure?”
This time he chuckled, low and hearty. “He’s been around for just as long as I have. Spirits have advantages of knowing things, I suppose.”
I laughed along with him, talking to Sani was easier than expected. I patted the divan beside me, inviting him closer. “If you do not wish to sit in that chair any longer.” He stood slowly and made his way to the divan, sitting within inches of me, still being careful not to touch. I appreciated the concern for the rules. “Maybe we can help each other, although I am not sure what kind of assistance one of your talents may need.”
“I’m sure you know this place far better than me. I suppose I should learn the ins and outs of the city. I’ll be staying much longer than I’ve ever stayed in a city before,” he replied honestly.
“Well, I do not live in the city, but I suppose I could show you around. Although I am sure, you will learn the ins and outs of the darker areas soon enough.” I suppose this could work, just showing him around the city every so often. I just would not be heading to those darker areas he mentioned.
“I don’t really live in the city either. I have a nice cabin in the bayou I’ve taken residence in.” And then he dropped that bomb. I mean, I should have known. It was perfectly suited to him. But I had this weird fear of the bayou. It was a place I could not escape easily. Maybe if I was a bull shark, sure, but not as myself.
“The bayou…so many large predators out there, and no water to swim in.” I think I actively shuddered.
He seemed to ponder my reaction for a minute. “I suppose for a shark, that may be true. Plenty of water for other creatures to swim in. Do you like alligators?”
I nodded. “I am not a large shark, though. So even if the waters were salty enough for me, the gators would be too much.” I gasped, realizing I revealed some weaknesses there that I had not intended to.
Sani just winked at me and smiled coyly. “If you ever have to come out there, I can guide you around. I have a fresh gator, too, if you’re ever interested in dinner.”
I had to admit, that sounded interesting and delicious. “I would be, yes. But I would have to go by land. I am not taking my boat there. I would never get it out.”
“We will have to arrange this after I get my supplies. I have a bed and chair in my home. I need some more necessities.” His face had lit up with just the thought of having company, or at least that was what it seemed like, and we exchanged numbers. I could not imagine that having a broken wereshark over was the most appealing thing to him. I also knew from the way this conversation was going that just knowing Sani was going to be an adventure.