Search (The Empire Chronicles #2)


by Alyssa Rose Ivy

Chapter One

Toby

She gazed down at me with a look of complete ecstasy before arching her back. I held on to her hips, letting my eyes take in every inch of her perfect body that was now completely on display for me. She moaned my name, making it even harder for me to stay in control. Casey was like a drug, and nothing was ever enough. I reached up to cup her breasts, and she moaned again. This time, it was louder, much louder. Then suddenly, there wasn’t a moan anymore; it just stopped.

I woke up with a start. Another damn dream. I’d been having them with increasing frequency, and despite the disappointment I felt when I realized I was completely alone in my bed, I didn’t mind the nighttime illusions. I was convinced that they’d become more than dreams soon enough. I lay in the darkness for a few moments until I remembered the news I’d received just hours earlier. Casey wasn’t human.

Throwing on some jeans, I knew what I had to do. I walked out onto the balcony, glad for the easy access to the night sky. I let myself transform, enjoying the sensation of heat and power that came with extending my wings. I climbed onto the railing and jumped.

The night was quiet—or as quiet as two a.m. ever is in New York City. I crossed over the Hudson before heading higher into the clouds. I couldn’t risk flying low for too long in the city. The less time I spent near populated areas the better. The wind rushed over and around my wings, adding to the experience. There’s no feeling like it.

I thought about Casey. Did she know the truth? Had she been playing me? Those possibilities didn’t make sense. Why would a royal Pteron live in a tiny apartment and serve coffee? It didn’t add up. The obvious answer was she didn’t know. That option sounded better to my ego, but it could also mean she was in even greater danger than we thought.

Even if she was in the dark about who she was, it still left too many questions. What about her sister? Surely Robert Laurent hadn’t impregnated someone other than his mate twice. There was no way Casey had made Vera up. The emotion on her face when she described her sister’s disappearance wasn’t the kind of thing you could fake.

I thought about Casey the entire flight. There was only one way I would get answers. I needed to talk to her whether she liked it or not. Eric had given me the information for a reason, and the only reason that made any sense was that he wanted me to help her. Maybe the bear understood just how much I cared about Casey.

When the sun showed the first signs of rising, I turned back to my apartment and reluctantly landed on my balcony. The only upside of the morning was that I’d get to see Casey soon. After a quick shower, I got dressed and headed toward the first stop of the day—Coffee Heaven.

***

“Can I get you the usual?” Casey’s glossy lips quirked into a friendly, yet hesitant, smile when I walked up to the counter.

I put a hand down in front of her. “No. I want something different today.”

“Oh.” She stepped back. “Like what?”

“Surprise me.” I smiled, studying her as inconspicuously as possible. I needed to get a read on her. Did she know? Did she know I knew?

She crossed her arms over her chest. Her Coffee Heaven apron partially covered her red t-shirt. “You know you’re opening yourself up to trouble by asking that.”

“Trouble? This is a coffee shop. What kind of surprise drink could you make me?”

Her expression was neutral, but something was different. Her eyes seemed wider that morning, like she was seeing everything for the first time. I knew the feeling. I’d experienced it myself too. I was sure of one thing. If Casey did know, she’d just found out. That wide eyed look didn’t last long. Soon it would be replaced by a complacency of someone who’d seen more than anyone else around them.

She turned her back to me and started making something in a blender. That wasn’t good. Blender meant cold and sweet. I was a black coffee guy. She was doing it on purpose. She was trying to pick a drink I’d hate. Maybe some would take that as an insult. I took it as a compliment. She was going through the effort to annoy me. That meant she cared.

A minute later, she placed a light brown frozen drink in front of me. “Enjoy your surprise drink. If you change your mind and want your usual, just let me know.” She smiled again. This time it was more natural.

I picked up the cold plastic cup. “I’m guessing this costs more too?”

“You really worried about the price, Toby?” She rested a hand on her hip.

I loved how she said my name. It rolled off her tongue. “No.” I pulled a partially wrinkled ten from my wallet and set it on the counter. “Keep the change.”

“How generous.”

I shrugged, hoping she took it as the return volley to the drink insult. “So how have you been?”

“It’s been an interesting couple of days.” She looked around me to what I knew was a line forming.

“When do you get off? Want to hang out?” I prepared myself for the inevitable “no.”

“I get off at eight.”

My heart sped up. Was she saying yes? I tried to calm down. This wasn’t about spending time with her. It was about answers. “Cool. I’ll meet you here.”

“See you then.” She nodded at me in a way that let me know the conversation was over. She wasn’t being rude, her boss had come out and she needed to get back to serving other customers.

I smiled at her then gave her boss, Eric, a look to let him know we needed to talk.

I walked outside, taking one sip of the syrupy sweet drink before dumping it in the trash. Even though Casey made it for me, I still couldn’t drink it.

Eric got the hint. No sooner had I turned the corner than he’d caught up with me. “We can’t talk here. All I’m saying is she knew nothing about it.” Eric’s large frame matched that of most of his kind. He was a bear, and although Pterons and bears rarely got along, we had something in common. Casey.

“How do you know?” I glanced around me. I didn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean no one was listening.

“I just do. You have to help her. She trusts you.” He shoved his hands in his pockets.

She didn’t trust me as much as he thought. If she did, she probably wouldn’t be spending her time with one of my least favorite people in the world, but if Eric wanted to think so, I wasn’t going to stop him. “I’m going to talk to her, but you’re sure your info is right?”

“Positive.” His mouth tightened into a thin line and his eyes darkened. He wasn’t messing around.

I hung my head. “Fuck. This sucks.”

“It does, for her. I don’t care what it means for your sex life.”

I frowned. “I don’t care about that. I care about her.” I could care less about the stupid no Pterons being with Pterons bullshit.

“Good. I’ll be in contact.” He spun and walked back toward the coffee shop. I watched his retreating figure for a moment, still thinking about the paternity test and what it meant for Casey. Being a child of the former Pteron king wasn’t something you could brush under a rug.

Although the conversation wasn’t particularly helpful, it got rid of any lingering doubt about the authenticity of the claims. The paper had seemed legit, but it was Casey’s eyes and Eric’s expression that sold me on it.

Chapter Two

Casey

Being pushed off the Empire State Building may have been the best thing that had ever happened to me. I was still angry at Murphy, and I’d probably spend the rest of my life with recurring nightmares of the evening, but the end result was amazing. The rush from flying was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I felt invincible, like no one could ever keep me down. The problem was the rush only lasted as long as the flight. When I finally landed and realized I was completely lost in the middle of nowhere, the reality set in. I wasn’t human, and my family had been keeping the truth from me.

I needed to believe they’d kept me in the dark for a good reason, or maybe they didn’t even know the truth. But a nagging feeling told me they knew everything, and if that was the case, nothing excused leaving me on my own to discover that kind of secret. Questions swirled around my head constantly. Was Robert Laurent my real father? And what about Vera? How did she fit into everything?

I brewed another pot of decaf. I didn’t get why people drank it. I mean, wasn’t caffeine the point of drinking coffee? It’s like getting only a salad at a steak house. There are far better places to get your greens.

Meeting with Toby didn’t seem like the best idea, but I didn’t know where else to turn. Talking to my parents was out of the question until I found out more information. If they’d kept the truth from me for nineteen years, why would they suddenly start being truthful? I needed to have my own cards to put on the table.

Toby didn’t owe me anything, but if anyone was going to help me, it would be him. I already knew Jared was going to flip out. He may have been a bad boy, but the Pteron dating rule was one I knew he wouldn’t want to break. From the bits and pieces I picked up, Jared blamed Bryant’s relationship with a Pteron for his incarceration. His reasoning didn’t quite make sense to me, but we believe what we want to. Still, I had to talk to Jared eventually. Too much had happened for us to pretend otherwise.

I wiped down the counters again while trying to avoid Eric’s stare. He’d been watching me for the last hour and a half of work. It wasn’t his usual pervy stare—it was something else. It’s like he sensed a change in me. I turned my back to him. Was that possible? Did he know the truth too? I’d debated calling in sick, but I needed the job, and I was too scared to fly again. At least not yet. Were there rules? What if someone saw me, or I got shot down for being in the wrong airspace? Okay, maybe that last fear was a little bit out there, but I needed to talk to someone. I really hoped Toby could help.

Finally, I couldn’t take Eric’s staring anymore. “Is there something I can help you with?”

He took a few steps closer to the counter. “Probably not.”

I tossed aside the towel and crossed my arms. “Then quit staring at me.”

“Any big plans tonight?”

“None that concern you.” I leaned back against the counter.

“Seeing Jared again?”

I startled. How did he know I’d seen Jared? “No.” We hadn’t even talked. I was avoiding calling him, but why hadn’t he called me? Maybe what happened hadn’t meant as much to him as I thought. In theory, that would make things easier, for him at least.

“Toby?”

“Why do you think I’m seeing someone?”

“When’s the last time you went out with your girlfriends?”

He was right. I needed to call Remy. She was down to working only one or two shifts a week, so I felt like I never saw her anymore. “Life’s been pretty crazy.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t need girlfriends.” His voice got all serious like he was my dad lecturing me.

“Okay…”

The bell above the door chimed.

I glanced over, unable to stop the smile that spread across my face. Toby was dressed down in khakis and a Lacoste shirt. Usually, he wore a suit. He looked nice dressed up, but he was the kind of guy who looked most comfortable when casual. Despite everything that happened with Jared, my feelings for Toby hadn’t changed. There was a part of me that wished I’d never heard Nelly’s gossip. It didn’t matter anyway. I was a Pteron, so Toby and I were fated to never move beyond friends. That reality upset me more than it should have.

“Hey. Am I too early?” He looked down at his watch before meeting my gaze.

Eric shook his head. “No. Casey’s free to go.”

“I am?” According to the clock it was still ten minutes to eight. Eric never let me out early. I was getting even more suspicious.