The next best series in romance for 2023
“Lord Archer!” I turned at the sound of my name.
Alistair Pembroke faced me, looking flushed and probably a little drunk.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he said like he was trying to be cute. Or maybe just a prick.
Alistair was a social climber and a billionaire. He wanted desperately to be my friend to get closer to the royal family. He’d shit his pants if he knew the crown prince was here in California.
He takes my hand and pounds me on the back while we shake, like we’re old pals. I can’t stand guys like him.
“Ms Helen Aristophanes,” he says to my date, “the pleasure is mine.”
The Fucked-up part is I know he’s had sex with her. More than once. While she was mine.
“Mr Pembroke.” Helen gives him one of her sultry and seductive smiles, offering him her hand. He scans her body and lifts her hand to his lips.
“So what brings the legendary Lord Archer here tonight?” he asks, holding her hand for way too long. “I never expected to see you among humans.” He finally lets her go.
I dig my hands into my pockets and glance around at the party. Let him wait for my response. The gala is in full swing; champagne, live music, men in thousand-dollar suits and women in designer dresses. The place is crawling with humans.
I’ve counted two other lycans here tonight. Pembroke probably brought them himself, part of his security detail. Possibly friends of his.
“I’m here the same reason we all are,” I say, “to support the charity.”
“Of course,” he says, sounding a little disappointed.
“There you are!” A woman sidles up next to Pembroke. “Alistair, honey, aren’t you going to introduce us?” She plants her eyes squarely on mine.
“Lord Archer, let me introduce you to my beautiful date, Ms Juana Vega. Juana, this is Lord Archer and his stunning date, Ms Helen Aristophanes.”
“His stunning partner,” Helen corrects him. She curls her fingers around my arm.
“Oh my, you’re Lord Archer,” Juana breaths. Her eyes brighten. She looks to Alistair. “You never told me you knew Lord Archer.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Ms Vega.” I shake her hand.
She looks starstruck. She gushes, “The pleasure is all mine!”
Helen’s hand tightens around my biceps. I have to resist the urge to shake her off. Helen and I need to have a talk soon.
“You must come sit with us.” Pembroke gestures to the VIP section at the front.
“I’m afraid we won’t be staying,” I tell him.
“Oh, do stay, please. The dance floor will be cleared soon for dancing.”
Pembroke must have a hard-on right now, he thinks he’s so close to getting an introduction to the royal family.
“I wish I could, but I have work to do.” I say. I’m such a cock-tease.
“Darling, you’re always working,” Helen says. “The party looks like fun.” She’s making that pouty face I’ve grown to despise. Pembroke probably finds it a turn on.
“You know very well we have a reservation,” I tell her. Conversation over, I excuse us.
In the restaurant, while we wait for our food, Helen pouts. I made her my companion nearly five years ago, no promises about the future. She was entertaining back then. But even then I made it very clear that, if I ever found my erasthai, our relationship would be over. No bad feelings.
It’s not like we’ve even been all that close these last five years. She’s often away for months. Once, for nearly a year! She says she likes to spend time in Mykonos where her parents live. I doubt that but I don’t ask her where she goes and she doesn’t ask me where I go. That part of the relationship has always worked well.
She’s so irritating now. I can’t remember when exactly she stopped being entertaining but it was a long time ago.
But the last straw came recently, when she started getting flirty with the crown prince. I take my job very seriously. Messing with my job is the one thing I won’t tolerate. The crown prince is happily paired and that’s not going to end on my account.
I may have given up hope of ever finding my erashtai, but I do need to find someone I can trust. Someone I genuinely like. For a lycan, an erasthai is more than your other half. She is the one your instinct calls for. She is your match, mentally, emotionally, physically. Even if it’s not love at first sight, you feel the pull deep inside and you know she is the one you will develop a love for, so deep, it’s a life bond. Your obsession. Your life. Your everything.
“I heard there will be a mating ceremony at Banehallow,” Helen interrupts my thoughts. “And the crown prince is flying his pack back to Russia. I’m sure we’re invited. It’s going to be a ball to die for.”
“I don’t think we’ll be going,” I say.
She pouts again. “You’re such a workaholic.”
I sip my wine and try to pick up my thoughts from where I left them but she interrupts me again.
“It’s just as well. I also heard he’s going to reject her. Quincy’s not pretty enough to be a queen. Don’t you think?”
The thought is laughable. Helen knows Quincy St. Martin is stunning. In fact, she was the only woman I found intriguing enough to consider as a mate. Too bad she’s the crown prince’s erasthai. My future queen.
“I’m bored,” Helen whinges. “We’re in LA; I want to go out.”
“Very well,” I say. “When we’re done, take the car. I’ll get a ride to the house.” I have no doubt she’ll go to Alistair. I’m relieved to be rid of her. I could use some time alone. I consider telling her to not bother coming back. But that would create a scene. Helen is not someone who will take getting dumped well. I have to find a way to do it without her going crazy.
Maybe I can sweeten her up with an expensive gift first. She loves expensive gifts.
Home is a 5,000 square foot penthouse with fifteen-foot ceilings and a perfect view of the Pacific. I never stay in one place for long, so this is just a temporary residence.
My official job title is “Emissary to the King of Lycans and Werewolves,” but the king jokingly calls me his message delivery boy.
I call myself his most trusted message delivery boy.
I travel all over the world. Sometimes I’m a negotiator, sometimes I’m just a given command.
I take off my jacket and pour myself a lowball. I get out my laptop and my phone buzzes in my pocket.
It’s my friend, Louis.
“Gideon!” he says. “Where are you man?”
“I’m out in LA,” I tell him. He sounds drunk. “Where are you?”
“Ibiza, but I’m done working.”
I check my pocket watch. It’s almost midnight. Nine in the morning in Ibiza.
“The party never ends, does it?”
He chuckles. “Some of us like to do a little living. You should try it.”
“I enjoy my work.”
“Yeah, so you keep saying. LA sounds like fun. I’ll come visit you.”
“Don’t bother. I’ll be leaving for Lisbon in a couple days. You want to meet there?”
“Sounds great. Let me know when you land. It’s a short flight for me,” he says before he hangs up.
I stare into the mirror and hate what I see looking back at me.
It’s not that I look ugly. The opposite, in fact. I look beautiful in a flowing pink dress accompanied with my mom’s beautiful touches of makeup.
I wanted to wear an ugly cat sweater and keep my hair up in a frizzy bun, but my mom wouldn’t allow it. Not when this might be the night I find my mate.
There’s a knock on the bathroom door and I hear my sister-in-law Carmen’s voice outside.
“Layla, everybody’s here. We’re going to the table.”
Gah! I wash my hands and mentally prepare myself for the night I’m going to have to endure.
As I walk to the door, I feel the familiar knot in the pit of my stomach intensify, but I plaster a smile onto my face and turn the handle.
I open the door to see my mom’s latest attempt at matchmaking, her friend’s son Kofi. I fight to stop my face from falling.
“You look beautiful tonight, Layla,” says Carmen. “Don’t you think she looks beautiful, Kofi?”
“She always looks beautiful,” replies Kofi with a big smile, his eyes sliding down to my chest.
I suppress a groan. Oh God help me.
He’s gross, but my mom and grandmother insist she thinks he’s my mate. I’ve told them to stop their incessant quest to set me up, but I think that makes them more insistent.
I’m only half werewolf, since my mom is a human. Nobody knew when I was born if I’d be able to find a mate like a normal werewolf. After 22 years with no sign of him, I think it’s fair to say he’s not coming.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be alone forever, no matter what my mom says.
Without asking, Kofi slips a hand behind my back and steers me after Carmen across the restaurant. I feel his hand slide down towards my ass.
But I’m expecting it. Without breaking my smile, I forcefully grab his hand and pull it up to my waist.
Just then, we reach the table where my mom and grandma are waiting. I see immediately that my grandmother has taken my seat, forcing me to sit next to Kofi.
“Grandma, your seat is right there.” I try to ‘gently’ push my grandma to sit at her usual chair.
She refuses to budge. “Ouch, my hip. I don’t think I can get up now. I swear, I might need a new hip soon. Now, what was that, Layla dear?”
I’m trying not to murder my eighty-seven-year-old grandma—my mom’s mom. She’s been living with us since my grandpa died ten years ago.
She’s also a crafty old lady who is as fit as a fiddle but shamelessly pretends to suffer every ailment known to man to get her way.
So I sigh and sit down next to Kofi, who immediately rests his hand on my thigh under the table. I shoot him an “I’ll kill you” look and he removes it.
The rest of my family sits down, too. My dad, my younger sister, Maya and her newly found mate Abraham, my older brother Kaleb.
“So, Layla dear, did you hear back from Frank?” asks my grandmother when everybody is seated.
I force myself not to roll my eyes. Not content to attempt to control my love life, my grandmother forced me to apply for a job at her friend’s company.
She wants to get me back to the Pack. None of my family understands why I moved away to the city for university, nor why I insist on paying my own bills, working part-time as a maid in wealthy werewolves’ houses.
After I gave up looking for a mate, I was in a bad place. I needed to control something in my life, or else I’d risk the pain overcoming me. So I moved out.
It hasn’t worked, though. I still lie awake most nights, thinking about the mate I’ll never know and wishing I could rip out the half of me that’s a werewolf so I wouldn’t have to worry about this stupid desire for a mate.
Mates are overrated. I really couldn’t care less about them anymore.
The waitress comes over to take our orders and before I can order the steak I always get, Kofi orders me the “leafy greens salad.”
What an asshole! What does my mom see in him?
“So,” he says, leaning too close and staring at me with those bright green eyes, “what do you want to do for our date next week?”
“We don’t have a date next week,” I say, turning away from him. Unfortunately for me, he doesn't seem to get the message.
“Oh? You want to cut right to the chase and come over to my place instead?”
That’s it! I’m going to kick Kofi in the balls.
But he’s saved at the last minute when my phone buzzes. I pick it up and see my boss’s name.
Beth 💬 I need you to cover a high-priority shift.
I stifle a groan. I’m always covering shifts at work. It’s getting ridiculous. I spend more time cleaning other peoples’ bedrooms than I spend in my own bedroom.
Layla 💬 Who is it?
Beth 💬 Can you be discrete?
Layla 💬 …
Layla 💬 Yes?
Beth 💬 He’s an emissary to the king. I need you at his house tomorrow.
Layla 💬 What’s his name?
Beth 💬 You may call him Lord Archer.
Beth 💬 Lord Gideon Archer