Irina returned his wave and made her way across the room, scanning the gathered faces for Clare. One friendly face was great, but two would be even better. At last she caught sight of her friend in the far corner.
Clare was too far away for Irina to talk to her without raising her voice above the genteel murmur of the other guests, but close enough that Irina could see her friend’s eyes flick up and down as she gave her outfit the once-over. Clare winked and gave Irina a subtle thumbs-up, and Irina felt the final knot in her stomach loosen.
What was I worried about? she wondered as she greeted Tay and accepted a glass of bubbly from him. I can be a waitress during the day and an artist at night. It’s going to be fine.
“Is this the place?”
Grant stared up at the brightly-lit fifth floor of the building they had just parked in front of. The contrast between the staid brickwork of the lower floors and the floor-to-ceiling, crystal clear fifth floor window was startling. It looked as though someone had sliced away the front wall to peer in at the inhabitants.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it was starting to snow.
Grant felt his panther’s discomfort with the weather. The emotion was separate from his own feelings, but still distinctly there, a constant, irritating itch. Grant was displeased that he could feel it at all. He’d spent most of the last six months as a panther, trying to get it out of his system, but its instincts were still so close to the surface. If he had been in his panther form, he would have flattened his ears at the cold stuff and maybe even snarled at what his human brain knew were harmless white flakes.
Since he was in human form, he was spared the embarrassment of growling at snow in front of his PA, Lance MacInnis.
“This is it,” Lance confirmed without glancing up. “You think she’ll be here?”
Grant shrugged. “It’s art, it’s new, it’s on a street I didn’t know existed in a neighborhood that would make her mother scream—it’s pure Frankie.”
“And you’re sure this is a good idea?”
Grant glared at the other man. “You clearly think not. Is that your official opinion as my PA?”
Lance snorted, his dark-brown eyes fixed on the window above them. The young black man was clearly solidly built beneath his well-tailored and fashionably styled suit, but the glasses he pulled from one pocket to perch on his nose gave a hint of incongruity to his appearance.
“My opinion as your ‘PA’ is that for a man of your demographic, gallery openings are a high-boredom, low-return investment of your time. And as your friend…” He twisted around in the driver’s seat, peering at Grant over the top of his glasses. “There are easier ways for you to go about this, you know.”
“I don’t want to hear it.” Grant’s shoulders tensed.
“I’m just saying—if Mathis Delacourt isn’t picking up the phone or checking in on Facebook, well, those are human ways to connect.”
“This isn’t up for discussion, Lance.”
“Understood.” The other man’s face was professionally blank.
Are you in there, Frankie? And will you be able to give me some answers?
He was careful to keep the question to himself. The last thing he wanted was to reach out telepathically to another shifter. Even if it wasn’t considered rude to broadcast telepathic messages before you actually saw a person, he was back in the city, now.
And in the city, he played human. No. He was human.
Grant’s spine prickled, the same uneasy feeling that had been plaguing him for the last few weeks. He clenched his fist on the car door handle, trying to shake the sensation of wrongness.
His plan was so simple, it was hardly a plan. He would go in, find Frankie, and talk to her. And it was only natural that the talk would turn to her twin brother.
Yeah, and why I haven’t heard a peep out of him since I got back from the jungle.
A year ago, Mathis Delacourt had been Grant’s closest friend. They had grown up together, two shifters causing endless trouble for themselves, each other, and their families. It had been a competitive friendship, but a close one. Grant had never been completely comfortable with his shifter nature, but without Mathis and his family, he never would have known the first thing about what being a shifter meant. Grant’s mother was human and had been abandoned by his shifter father before Grant was even born.
Grant had always envied the family structure of the Delacourt pride. For lions, family was everything. For panthers—well, he only had his father’s example to go by, but family clearly wasn’t as much of a priority for panther shifters as it was for lions.
Something had changed in the months before Grant left to exercise his panther. Mathis had seemed distracted. Grant himself had found it difficult to concentrate, his panther so restless it felt as though it was always about to burst through his skin, and now he could maybe admit to himself that he hadn’t paid close enough attention to his friend. He’d stepped back and focused on his own needs, and Mathis had done the same.
By the time Grant came back into the country, Mathis had stepped back so far he’d vanished. All of Grant’s calls and messages had gone unanswered.
Grant was a panther. They weren’t pack animals—not like Mathis and his lion’s pride. Not family-oriented. He didn’t need to be around others to feel secure with his place in the world.
But, dammit, he did need his oldest friend to at least pick up the phone once in a while.
Tonight’s mission might not unearth Mathis, but Grant was hoping that his friend’s twin sister, Francine—Frankie—would find the lure of the art event too tempting to resist. Frankie and he might not have always gotten along, but he was hoping she’d at least give him some answers about why Mathis had ghosted on him.
Time to find out, he told himself as he stepped out onto the street. Snowflakes settled on his shoulders as he hurried to the front door, his panther inwardly seething at the cold weather.
Lance fell into step beside him. He seemed completely at ease in the freezing weather—a side-effect of being a snow leopard shifter, Grant assumed, or maybe something to do with his military background. Whereas Grant’s panther longed for the sticky heat of the jungle, Lance’s feline form relished the ice and snow. Even in human form, Lance didn’t seem to feel the cold.