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A Man of Many Talons by Vivienne Savage (1)

1

Leigh

My husband had a problem. If he wasn’t putting in overtime at the sheriff’s department, running his private security firm, or flying to Washington, D.C., the man was driving hours away to San Antonio and helping his werewolf friends. Marrying a shifter with big connections in the paranormal community meant I spent most days feeling like a single mom. Even after seven years of marriage.

This time, Ian’s responsibility took him to D.C. to meet with his contacts in the government.

My gaze drifted to the clock on the mantel. Sophia had been in bed for hours, and his plane had landed over an hour ago. Any minute, I expected to hear him pull into the drive.

In the meantime, I had wine, chocolates, and a whole season of my favorite horror suspense show to console me until my workaholic’s return. With new episodes starting in two weeks, I wanted to refresh my memory.

Around the time the closing credits began, headlights flashed in the windows. The door barely clicked when it opened behind me. Marrying a sexy operative meant he moved like a ninja and rarely made a sound when he entered.

I peeked over the back of the couch and watched him remove his shoes. “Pleasant flight?”

Ian froze, champagne-colored eyes fixed on me. “You’re still awake?” The deer caught in the headlights stare ended and he set his bag down. He’d only taken a leather carry-on with him.

“Yup. Wanted to wait on you. Was your flight okay?”

An easy grin came to his face. “I was stuck between someone who doesn’t bathe and the window, with a whining kid in the seat behind me. Should have listened to Nadir and avoided commercial.”

My nose wrinkled. “Ew.” With his sense of smell, that must have been hell. “About BO guy, I mean. Whining kids can be tuned out.” I plucked my empty glass from the coffee table. “Gonna have a refill. Want one?”

Ian stretched in the open archway leading to our living room. It pulled his bronze dress shirt taut over his chest, drawing my attention to those fine muscles and a body that never seemed to age. He loosened his tie, then glanced at the clock. “I probably shouldn’t...” A small line notched between his brows, then the corner of his mouth rose. “Sure.”

“Be right back then.” While my hubby settled on the sofa, I hustled into the kitchen and poured two glasses of fizzy pink moscato. Then I returned and settled against his side, letting the warmth of his cologne surround me. “Sophia has requested your special PBJ for lunch tomorrow. Apparently I don’t make them right.”

“That’s because you scrape a speck of jelly on the bread, baby. You’re the strawberry jam miser when you make the sandwiches. You do know that we can afford another jar, right?”

“It’s so much sugar,” I grumbled. “She doesn’t need to be dripping jelly all over her clothes, either.”

He squeezed me with one arm, a band of unyielding muscle around my body. “We also have this neat invention called a washing machine. When you place clothes in it and press a button, stains wash right off them.”

“Says the man who doesn’t do the laundry. I wish stains came out so easy, smartass.”

“Isn’t it why you love me?”

I loved him for so many reasons, his sassiness the least of them. “Sometimes.” A moment of silence settled between us as we sipped wine. He took his time, savoring his, though his shapeshifter constitution would probably clear the alcohol content from his blood before he even awakened for his morning shift. “So, how’d it go? Are you upgrading from sheriff to super spy maker now?”

His low chuckle stirred my hair. “I won’t be going back into action, if that’s your concern. But if I don’t nudge Washington in the right direction, there’s no telling when they’ll get the idea on their own.” He sipped again, a contemplative expression on his face. “They’re considering it. May be a few years before they’ll even try to rustle up the budget to found another agency, but I did my part.”

His words unraveled the small knot of tension in my chest. I released a quiet breath. “Well, good. I mean, I’m glad you’re involved in the admin aspects, but I was worried about the field.” The admission made me duck my head. “Besides, we like you being our sheriff.”

“And I like being the sheriff. These folk’ll have to work hard if they want to get rid of me. How were things here while I was gone? Everything okay with Sophia?” He touched my chin and raised my face. “Everything all right with you?”

“I’m fine. We enjoyed a girls’ weekend and hit up the zoo and the park with Julia and Charlotte while the boys went to some dinosaur exhibit with Lyle. Much more fun than stuffy board meetings with guys in suits and uniforms. I know you can’t tell me much about the work, but how does it feel to be a civilian around generals or what have you?”

After the last sip of wine, he set the glass on the table and gathered me against him. I melted against his chest. “Feels like I have to work harder to convince them that I’m right and they’re wrong. But I do agree that your weekend blew mine out of the water.” His grin faded a little. “Think Sophia will want to go to the museum together next weekend? I missed you both.”

“Of course she will. She loves going places with you and knows your work is important.” So did I. A tiny fragment of shame chiseled away at my conscience. Just minutes ago, I’d been comparing myself to a single mother.

What the hell was wrong with me?

“Great. I—” He blinked at the television and canted his head, the gesture birdlike. “The hell is this on the television?”

“Oh, um... The Exorcism of Melissa Elwood. It’s really good.” But he wasn’t into horror, so I pulled away long enough to grab the remote and turn the show off. “I was going to head to bed soon anyway, but I wanted to stay up for you.”

He chuckled. “No need to turn it off because my old ass is back home.”

“You’re not old.”

“Baby, I’m plenty old.” When I shot him a dubious look, he rose from the couch and angled his body toward the kitchen. “But I do think I’ll get Sophia’s lunch together, shower, and join you in bed.”

“Make it in the morning. It’s late, and bed is calling my name, so I know it’s calling yours. Dealing with airports always makes me tired, so…”

He grunted. “I hate when you’re right.” But he took my hand and led the way upstairs toward our bedroom, pausing to glance in at our seven-year-old daughter’s room.

Pink construction paper was taped to the door.

“What’s that?” he whispered.

“That’s her birthday wishlist.”

Ian squinted at the list, then he snorted. “She wants a cockatoo?” The rest of the list wasn’t as fancy, a new bicycle, sketchpad, some books, but the cockatoo had been written in big block letters with a purple crayon and circled twice which meant it was serious business.

“Yeah. Apparently she found videos of dancing birds on the web and now she wants a cockatoo she can teach to sing and dance.”

“Better that poor thing than me.” He kissed my cheek and moved ahead into our bedroom, leaving behind a trail of clothes across the polished hardwood floor as he went to the master bathroom.

When I bent to gather them, Ian returned, looking sheepish.

“Sorry.”

“It’s only clothes.”

He swept the rest off the floor and took the shirt from me. “Still. You’re not my maid.” He paused a beat, then added, “Maybe we should hire a maid. Take some of the load off—”

“No!”

He blinked.

“Sorry, what I mean is, we don’t need to hire someone. It’s such a waste of money when I can just take an hour a day to do a little cleaning myself.”

Ian cocked one dark brow. Both were ash brown, contrasting his salt and pepper hair. Neither were his natural color. Starting a couple years ago, my husband had started visiting our close friend’s salon and getting it all dyed to match his age, but his white roots were showing now. For years, Ian had been completely white to match his bald eagle animal half.

And it bugged him. He’d been losing the color, but not his hair, since his early twenties.

It seemed like every time he visited Jada’s salon and spa, he came back a little darker on top. It started when one of Sophia’s friends asked our daughter if Ian was her grandfather. He hadn’t been the same since then, even though his deliciously muscled body didn’t match his age. Even though he and the rest of his shifter pals didn’t look a day over forty, it still bothered him. I’d caught him in the home gym, busting ass on the treadmill—the man was down to a four-minute mile and claimed it was nothing compared to most shifters—and he’d been really putting in time on the weights.

Normally, I wouldn’t complain about my husband hitting the weights, since he had the body of a Greek god these days, but the motivation needed to change.

While I brushed my teeth, Ian dropped his boxers and tossed his clothes into the hamper. The muscles along his back rippled, and I almost drooled toothpaste watching his abs flex. If he didn’t have an early morning of work, I’d have joined him, but poor Ian deserved the rest.

Plus, we had that appointment tomorrow. Wasting sperm would be irresponsible when the fertility specialist might want to test him.

God. Wasting sperm.

As my face flushed hot at the thought of somehow wasting ejaculate, I hurried from the bathroom and turned down the bed. The embarrassment cooled while I fussed over the blankets, fluffed the pillows, and doublechecked the alarms. We kept one on each side of the bed.

Once Ian emerged from the bathroom in only a fresh pair of shorts—accustomed to Sophia charging in at any hour of the night to wiggle between us—he crawled into bed beside me and practically collapsed against his pillow.

“Night, Leigh.” He glanced at the clock and reached toward it.

“I already set it. Night, hon. Love you.”

I kissed his cheek, then reached over to turn off the light. Soft moonlight spilled in through the windows and glow-in-the-dark star stickers shone from the ceiling. Those had been Sophia’s request. I came home from work one day to find her and Ian placing them in every bedroom.

We were so lucky. Sophia and I could have had a completely different kind of life, but this wonderful, kind, and beautiful man had rescued us both. Angry at myself for my earlier thoughts, I snuggled close and pressed my back into his chest. His strong arm curled around me automatically.

“Love you, too,” he mumbled against my hair.

My only prayer was that he never stopped.

Ian

Maybe it had something to do with my avian nature, but I always roused first in the morning, long before the alarm was set to beep. Waking had never been difficult.

Leaving the bed was another matter, requiring all of my willpower, because my wife was a platinum blonde fox. I could have laid beside Leigh for hours watching the steady rise and fall of her chest and listening to the little sounds she made during her dreams.

Damn, I’d missed her. I hadn’t even left for more than three days this time to handle my business up in Washington, but three days away from a woman like this felt like weeks.

Instead of stealing the moment for a morning quickie, I did the responsible thing and prepared for work. After a shower and a shave, I tugged on my sheriff’s uniform and made my little girl’s sandwich. Lunch prep had been Leigh’s duty until a couple months back when she caught the flu. I’d stepped in for her, and ever since, Sophia personally asked for my special touch. I took a little pride in making the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Once everything was packed in her Hello Kitty lunchbox, I started a batch of chocolate chip pancakes, because I loved both of my women, the big curvy one and the little one. Even if the big curvy one kept doing these annoying things lately like cutting out the carbs in her meals. Didn’t she understand that I loved her thighs just the way they were?

Just as I plated up two stacks of pancakes and a fried egg for each lady, Sophia followed her nose and peeked into the kitchen. “Daddy?”

“Yep, it’s me.”

“You’re home!” Her disheveled mane of honey blonde curls bounced as she darted across the kitchen floor to me. I caught her during the leap.

“I missed you, too, sweetheart. Now go and get ready for school.”

“Do I have to?”

“Yup. But I promise I’ll be home to hang out with you when you get off the bus.”

“Okay!” She zipped off again and I heard the faucet turn on in the bathroom.

Zombie Leigh shuffled into the kitchen a little later. She kissed my cheek in passing then poured a cup of coffee for each of us while I flipped pancakes for myself. I pinched her ass when Sophia wasn’t looking, and we ate breakfast together with time to spare.

“Is Daddy taking me to school today?”

“I sure am. Get your shoes on.” I drained the rest of my coffee and stood. It was my self-appointed job to deliver our kid to school each day and I didn’t like surrendering my favorite task. Yet another one of life’s little pleasures.

Leigh walked us both to the door and kissed Sophia on the cheek first. “Be good today.”

“I’m always good.”

“Hardly,” Leigh teased.

“She’s a perfect angel. Much like her mama,” I cut in. “Where’s my kiss?”

My wife laughed, but her gray eyes sparkled with mischief. “Right here, sheriff.” Her lips brushed over mine but lingered when I thought she’d pull away. “Don’t forget our appointment.”

Shit. We hadn’t talked about it much, but I’d finally agreed to visit the fertility clinic with her to find out why this house wasn’t filled with a squad of children. She could have been pregnant three or four times since she had her IUD removed.

I grunted. “I’m leaving the station early as promised. Sophie, sweetie, go wait for me in the car.”

“Okay! Love you, Mommy.” Sophia hugged Leigh tight, then dashed outside to the patrol vehicle.

Leigh waved to her, then glanced at me. “You have a good day, okay?”

“I will. Nothing ever happens in Quickdraw.” Aside from petty theft and the occasional drunken domestic dispute, life had been peaceful. Quiet lately. Now, the surrounding towns under my county’s jurisdiction were another matter and lately we’d been called out about all manner of issues from drunk drivers to the occasional meth lab bust in the woods. “About the appointment... I had some time to think it over while I was gone, Leigh.”

“Ian, Sasha pulled strings to get us this appointment. We’d be waiting months more otherwise, and this is the last time I could get us in because we’ve had to reschedule the last two attempts.”

Part of me had been hoping she’d had the time to change her mind. When I replied, my voice was low and quiet, otherwise I couldn’t pull off lying with a straight face. “I know she did. I was just going to say I’m looking forward to it.” I followed the falsehood with a smile, but what I really wanted to do was find my friend and throttle her for getting into our damn business.

“Oh. Good.” The bubble of tension between us popped. Leigh kissed me again. “This will be good for us, I know it. Now go on before you’re late. I have to finish dressing for work anyway.”

“Yeah. You’re right.” What if it was me? What good would it do if it was my age or something related to my shifter biology preventing us from conceiving? “Have a good day at work.”

“Daddy!”

“Coming!” Before the princess could fuss at me more, I hurried out to the patrol car.

Dropping Sophia off at the front of the elementary school took no time at all, most of the early morning rush done and over with.

“Morning, sheriff,” one of the greeters said, smiling kindly as she opened the passenger door for Sophia to exit.

I waved. “Morning, Miss Mary Lou. Be good at school, Sophie. Love you.”

“Love you, too, Daddy.”

It didn’t matter that Sophia wasn’t my biological child. I didn’t need another baby as long as we had her.

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