Iron Master – Jennifer Ashley

Chapter One


She was the only one who called him Stuart. The rest of the Shifters and the two humans he worked for called him Reid, except for Graham, the Lupine clan leader, who called him That effed-up, weird, dark Fae shit.

Peigi had only ever called him Stuart since the day he’d helped rescue her from a feral Shifter compound and traveled with her to the Las Vegas Shiftertown. She was still the only Shifter who didn’t take a few steps back from Stuart when they smelled the taint of Faerie on him.

Peigi came up behind him as he stood in the darkness, gazing across the moonlit desert at the edge of Shiftertown.

“What is it?” she whispered.

Stuart didn’t share the same sense of smell as the Shifters he lived among but he always recognized the faint orange and cinnamon, like a winter tea, that brushed Peigi’s skin. She’d told him once, when he’d commented on it, that it was her shower gel, but for Reid, the scent meant her.

“I don’t know.” Reid studied the silent expanse of sky touched by the glow from Las Vegas’s lights.

He should have known better than to believe he could slip out of the house in the middle of the night without Peigi noticing. She not only had Shifter hearing but looked after six orphaned cubs. She could hear a leaf fall.

“Something must have made you wander out at three in the morning,” she said. “You hate getting up early.”

“I thought I heard …” Reid broke off as he heard the whisper again, the one that had cut through his dreams.

Come to me …

It was like music, a song familiar but unremembered. Beckoning, calling, urgent, unrelenting.

“Shit,” he whispered.

“What? What do you see?”

“It’s not what I see. What I hear.”

Peigi peered past him into the darkness. “Which is?”

She must not be touched by the silvery sound, the pull. Come …

“One of my people. Calling me.”

“Your people …” She trailed off in worry.

Stuart nodded grimly. “The dokk alfar, yes.”

“How?” Peigi scanned the empty lots at the end of Shiftertown’s row of houses, land left undeveloped because few humans wanted to live near a Shiftertown. Wind danced in the dry weeds, cold and sharp in the January night. Even Las Vegas grew cold in the winter, temperatures sometimes dropping to below freezing at night.

“I don’t know how.” Stuart heard his voice sharpen and softened it for her. “They shouldn’t be able to talk to me.”

Exile meant exile. Cut off entirely from his home, from the few people he knew who were still alive, even from his old enemies. The high Fae had locked him into the human world for many years now. Stuart had managed to go back only once, to rescue a Shifter woman and her human mate who’d believed in him when he’d given them no reason to.

After that the gates had closed again, permanently, and here Stuart was. But exile wasn’t so bad these days, not with the woman who stood behind him, Shifter-close, in the way Shifters did. Her warmth, her breath on the back of his neck, was the only thing at the moment keeping Reid from full-blown rage tinged with panic.

“Go back to bed,” he advised.

Peigi’s snort of derision ruffled his hair. “Sure. Leave you alone with someone Fae calling you through thin air? ’Cause that always ends well.”

“They must have tapped the ley line.”

“Which is closed. Graham and Eric made sure.”

Reid wanted to turn to her, bathe in her strong beauty, the tall bear Shifter who made him wonder how he ever thought Shifters less than amazing. But he kept his eyes on the darkness in case anything charged at them out of the night, like a thousand angry high Fae with glittering swords. Peigi was right—dealings with Faerie never ended well.

“Graham and Eric aren’t Fae,” Stuart said. “They sealed the hole, but that doesn’t mean the ley line went away.”

He could still feel the magic of the line running under the houses built for Graham’s nearly feral wolves who’d moved down from northern Nevada when his Shiftertown had been closed.

“We can ask them,” Peigi said. “Tomorrow.”

Reid scanned the air. The whisper had vanished, along with the tingle that prickled his skin through the cold of the night.

Had it been a dokk alfar calling to him? Or a trick of his dreams? The voice had gone, and it was difficult to be sure.

Reid took one last look around the dark lot, the blackness beyond complete. No more city after this point, just the