His Leeding Lady (The Follow up Story for Fans of Leeds!)
Isadora Dupree teleported into the woods nearest Dirt Pines Retirement Community’s main building and straightened the sleeves of her blazer. She came to the center every third Thursday of the month to meet with some of her longer term patients who weren’t up to leaving the center. It was her job to see to their mental well-being. Those who could still travel easily and needed more regular care came to her office in nearby Chatsworth. She maintained an office there for shifters and witches, and occasionally also treated a random human or two who stumbled upon her counseling office and didn’t realize who she was.
She didn’t mind. She was willing to see anyone who needed her services.
“Good morning, Dora.”
Dora looked up to see Mrs. Shacklemeyer waving from the door to the community center. “Hello, Mrs. Shacklemeyer. How are we all doing today?”
The four-century old Horse Shifter scowled at her. “Carl Otterman’s inside putting the moves on all the women, but he lost his teeth. No one can understand a word he’s saying, so now he’s just walking around the room indiscriminately pinching everyone’s fannies and chomping his gums at them in a really creepy disturbing attempt to get someone to come back to his room with him.”
“Ah.” Dora schooled her expression. Much as she’d love to at times, it was her job to remain dispassionate and nonjudgmental. She made her way up the three steps to the entrance, heels clicking on the concrete steps. “Well, I’ll have to see him first, then, won’t I?”
Carl didn’t really need any therapy. Like many of her patients here, he just needed someone to talk to from time to time. Just a little company. She should really make time to come here more often, but her schedule didn’t allow it. Her practice was growing faster than she’d thought it would. To be honest, the magical community needed a lot more therapy than she could provide.
“Hey, Izzy!” Eris, the healer for Dirt Pines and Dora’s best friend despite their polar opposite personalities, grinned at her. “They’re all fired up and ready to go for you. Mrs. Shannon just did a little strip tease for everyone. One of the orderlies is pretty sure she thinks she’s a mermaid this week, and everyone knows mermaids don’t wear clothes.”
“Don’t call me that,” was Dora’s only reply. She didn’t go by Izzy. Well, that wasn’t true. She’d used that name one night and one night only. But that was a night she was trying to forget.
Damn. Now she was lying to herself again. She thought about that night all the time. It wasn’t exactly easy to forget a one night stand with the Jersey Devil. Leeds was sexier than sin and different than any man she’d ever been with. Which made sense, since he wasn’t technically a man. He existed because people in the area believed in his existence so strongly, he’d simply come to be. For centuries now, he’d kept the humans away from the shifter retirement home in the Pine Barrens. He wasn’t a warlock or a shifter either. He was part horse, part eagle, and part dragon. Most considered him to be some sort of beast straight from the bowels of hell. She thought he was one of the sexiest beings she’d ever seen, both in and out of his human form. What could she say? She had a thing for dragon wings.
She never would have acted on that crush, though, if it wasn’t for Eris, who still stood grinning at her like a fool. Eris wasn’t the fool, though. Dora had been the fool that night. She shouldn’t have given in to the dare. Just because someone double Dog Shifter dares you to let go of all your inhibitions for a single night doesn’t mean you should do it. Inhibitions were a good thing most of the time.
But, no, she’d let Eris taunt her into putting on Eris’ clothes and hot red lipstick she never in a million years would have bought for herself. She’d curled her hair and set off in spiked high heels to the bar she knew Leeds frequented. And when he’d asked, she’d gone to a hotel room with him for a night that was easily one of the best nights of her life.
“Speaking of calling, when are you gonna see him again?” Eris trailed after her to the community room, while Mrs. Shacklemeyer tried to look like she wasn’t listening into their conversation.
“Shh!” Dora glanced at Mrs. Shacklemeyer. No way she wasn’t listening. Dirt Pines thrived on gossip, and if anyone knew she’d slept with Leeds, it would be all over town in a heartbeat. That’s the last thing she needed. “You know perfectly well that’s not going to happen.”
“Do I?” The sly look on her friend’s face set off warning bells.
“Excuse us,” Dora said to Mrs. Shacklmeyer as she clutched Eris’s elbow and veered down a hallway. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Absolutely not, what?”
“Whatever it is you’re thinking. No. The answer is no.” Dora used her firmest, I’m not messing around here Eris, tone. She’d had to use that tone throughout their friendship. The two couldn’t be more opposite if they tried. Eris was fun loving and wild and free. Dora, well, Dora was not. She preferred order and calm in her world. She preferred quiet evenings at home with a book and a glass of wine. Eris would rather party at clubs up and down the Eastern coastline every night of the week.
Eris raised her hands in an attempt to look innocent. “I’ve got nothing in my head.” She followed this with a burst of laughter. “Ha! Get it? Nothing in my head. That’s funny. Don’t you think that’s funny?”
Dora shook her head but couldn’t help a small smile. Eris could always get a smile out of anyone. “Just so long as we’re clear. No schemes where Leeds is concerned. He won’t be calling. I won’t be seeing him again. I was living out a fantasy. Nothing more.”
Eris didn’t have a chance to answer. Carl Otterman came skidding around the corner with ten or so angry women hauling butt after him. As much as one could haul butt using walkers, wheelchairs, and canes, anyway.
Things went a little downhill from there and Dora found herself spending the vast majority of her visit trying to talk the women out of stringing up Carl and his traveling hands and using him as a pinata at that weekend’s Bengay and Barbeque Fest.
Leeds scanned the bar one last time. He ignored the blond witch in the corner and her over-the-top eyelash batting. He was only interested in one woman tonight. In fact, there had only been one witch on his mind for some time now.
And, of course, she was nowhere to be found. He’d hoped she would come back to the bar they’d first met at, but he’d been here every night since he’d come back from Ass Jacket, Virginia, weeks ago and there’d been no sign of her. It wasn’t overly shocking since he’d never seen her before that night either.
This was getting him nowhere. He hadn’t seen a damned sign of the witch who’d cursed him, and asking around about her wasn’t an option. If people found out about this, they’d see him as weak, and that wasn’t something he could allow. It was bad enough he’d had to tell his best friend, but after the way he’d gone after Gideon when he questioned him about his glamour flickering in and out, the least Leeds had owed him was an apology and an explanation.
But, shit, this was getting bad. He couldn’t do his job safely if he couldn’t maintain complete control over the glamour that hid his true identity from the world. Protecting the Pine Barrens of New Jersey—home of the largest shifter retirement community in the country—was no easy task. It took balance. There had to be enough sightings of him to scare people, but no verifiable evidence so that people wouldn’t come out in droves like he was some tourist attraction.
When he was at full strength, he could take care of the few crackpots who came looking to get a video or picture of him. That was easy. It turned out, he was remarkably adept at scrambling technology so they left with nothing more than white fuzz. Of course, there were some areas of the pines that had been developed nowadays, but large swaths of it were heavily wooded and not readily accessible, letting them hide the shifter community easily. He’d get humans coming through from time to time, but a quick glamour to hide himself as he brushed past and blew on the back of their necks was enough to send any of them away with a creepy enough feeling they didn’t want to come back.
This damned curse was putting all of that in jeopardy. His magic plummeted to rock-bottom levels several times a day. It wasn’t random. He knew damned well what had triggered it. Any time he thought about sex, his magic bottomed out, leaving his true appearance exposed and the shifters who relied on him to do his job in danger. What was worse, despite all that and despite the humiliation this fucking curse was causing him, he still wanted to see Izzy again. How screwed in the head did that make him?
Leeds growled and turned, shoving through the back entrance to the bar, out into the dark alley behind it. With a leap, he dropped the glamour that made him appear to the world as a man and became the winged creature he truly was. Horned, with a horse’s head and the wings of a dragon, the clawed talons of an eagle. He was truly frightening to behold, but the world rarely saw him in that form. Even now as he flexed powerful wings and took flight, a flick of his mind set up a glamour so that anyone looking up into the night sky would see only a dark cloud or shadow above.
He banked right and headed toward home. Another frustrating day of endless searching. The eyes of the witch he sought stayed with him wherever he went. They’d been together one night, but he’d not been able to get her out of his mind since—unlike the hundreds of women who’d come and gone from his bed over the decades he’d existed.
As his thoughts went to her, he felt the now familiar drain on his magic and began to plummet from the sky. That feeling was becoming more familiar, as well. He free-fell wildly for the few seconds it took for his magic to replenish itself, knowing all the while he was exposed to anyone who happened to look up. With a curse, he pumped his wings as soon as his strength returned, glamour back up and running. This had to stop.
Of course, he’d tried to stop thinking about her. He suspected the way she stuck in his mind, the way he couldn’t get the taste of her lips, the feel of her supple skin, off his mind had something to do with the curse as well. All because he’d left without so much as a goodbye in the middle of the night. Had he known how vindictive she could be, he never would have left that bar with her, never would have taken her to a hotel for a single night of, well, pure fucking bliss had been what it was. Mind-numbing erotic fantasy come true.
The sad thing was, he couldn’t put his finger on why. There was something about the way she was wild and free, and completely uninhibited with him. Shit. He began his free fall once again, as his magic plummeted. This had to stop. Leeds gritted his teeth and began running through the list of things he’d found he could focus on other than sex as he made his way back to the pine barrens. Baseball stats, country music, the Star Spangled Banner. Anything other than her.
As the edge of his territory came into sight, he spotted three idiots in what seemed to be a tree stand. Most likely, they thought he wouldn’t spot them there, but his eyesight rivaled that of an eagle and he had the hearing of a bat. Hiding up in a tree wouldn’t do a damned thing for these guys.
Any other night, Leeds might mess with them and play around. It was fun to screw with these guys. Not tonight. Not with his magic coming and going unreliably. He dropped lower in the sky, drawing an even stronger cloaking spell around himself so he could slip silently into the treeline and disappear without being spotted.
One more stroke of his powerful wings and he was cutting through the trees, on the way toward home, his bed, a break from the worry of trying to hold himself together. Because although he would never admit it to anyone, he was worried. Leeds existed solely because people believed he existed. That belief had become so powerful, it fueled his very existence and the magic that kept him alive. If he couldn’t do his job, would he one day disappear? It wasn’t a fear he would even admit to himself, much less share with anyone, but it was very real.
This damned curse could change all of that. One thought about the curse was enough to remind him of the witchy woman driving him to distraction and he once again felt his glamour slip away. With a curse, he fell, too close to the ground this time to right himself.
Shouting came from behind him and the sound of humans tearing through the woods traveled to his ears.
Shit. The ground came up quickly, greeting Leeds with a faceful of pine needles and dirt.
“Oh,” came a female voice above him, and he raised his gaze to find a very shocked witch standing just in front of where he’d landed.
“You.” There she was. His Izzy. Damn. Not his Izzy. That wasn’t what he’d meant. Just Izzy. The witch who’d cursed him and caused this fall in the first place. He reached out and grabbed hold of her waist, pulling her to him. He couldn’t take a chance on losing her again.
As he took hold of her, he felt the weakness overcome him, this time more powerful than before. The crashing through the trees came closer and Leeds was in no shape to do anything about it.
“Teleport us!” He barked out. “Now!”
She blinked them away to the far side of the barrens, and he fell back, moving as far away from her as he dared, but staying where he could grab her if he had to.
“You,” he said again, with a small shake of his head. He’d seen the counselor coming and going from the retirement center from a distance but he’d never in a million years dreamed she was Izzy. She was buttoned up from top to bottom in her neat little business suits with a perfect bun in her hair.
Goddess! All he could think about was pulling her hair down out of that knot, lifting that skirt suit up and—damnit! His glamour vanished again and he turned away from her, lifting one wing to shield himself.
“Wait, why couldn’t you teleport out of there yourself?”
“The curse, you need to lift it.”
“What curse? “ She asked and seemed genuinely puzzled.
Leeds cursed again, gritting his teeth as he struggled to put his glamour in place and hold it there. It seemed virtually impossible in her presence. Every time his magic came back, he’d take one look at her and bottom out again. It was laughable when you thought about it. She couldn’t have picked a curse more designed to make him look like a fool.
“Leeds?” Her voice was soft and he took another step backward, pulling his glamour up around him to appear human again. “Why do you do that?” she asked. “Why do you cover yourself when your glamour fails?”
“I—” he was thrown by the question and frowned at her. “Most people don’t want to look at the hideous face of the Jersey Devil.” He knew what he looked like in his true form. He was like a shifter version of Frankenstein, made up of different animals. A horse’s head as black as the night sky. The feathers of a bird ran down his neck, and from there some weird amalgamation of dragon and bird took over.
She took the few steps forward to him so quickly, he didn’t have time to brace for the glamour to fall. Before he realized it, he was back in his natural form. She didn’t flinch or bat an eye. “You’re not hideous, Leeds. Not at all.” She looked at him with eyes that told him she believe what she was saying. “You’re regal and majestic.”
Leeds didn’t know what to say to that, but he backed away. His head was swimming from being so close to her. Four steps and he was able to pull his glamour up again. “I still need you to remove the curse, Izzy. I can’t do my job like this. It’s getting dangerous, and not just for me. If I can’t keep humans away from Dirt Pines, the shifters will have to relocate.”
“They can’t do that!”
He smiled at her and had to admit, he liked the way she was so quick to jump to the defense of the shifters who called Dirt Pines their home. “I don’t want that either, Izzy, but if you don’t lift this curse, it’s a very real possibility.”
She shook her head at him. “I didn’t put any curse on you, Leeds. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
“That doesn’t make sense. It started right after I left you and it’s, well, it’s uh focused on you.”
“Excuse me? Focused on me?”
Shit. How could he explain this if she didn’t know without looking like an idiot? “It’s uh, every time I think about–” he cleared his throat. This was ridiculous. He wasn’t a schoolboy. “Everytime I think about sex, or that night or you, my magic completely drains and I can’t hold my glamour or fly or anything.”
She watched him for a long moment, then stepped forward and watched as his magic left him and he returned to his natural form. She stepped back and watched as he pulled his glamour back around him.
“So, this whole time, you’ve been thinking about sex?”
He shook his head slowly, the corners of his mouth twitching as he fought a smile. “You.”
“Oh!” A flush of red colored her cheeks as she seemed to process the last few minutes. “Oh.”
“Yeah. So you can see how this is a bit of a problem for me.”
Her eyes flared wide. “Oh! She wouldn’t.”
Izzy tipped her head back and shouted, “Eris, get your skinny little butt over here!”
She tapped her foot on the soft forest floor and he had to fight down the urge to go kiss her annoyance away. What the Goddess was that? Why would he be so turned on by the adorable way she pursed her damned lips when she was angry? His glamour flickered in and out furiously and he took two more steps backward and focused on doing math in his head.
Izzy looked over at him with a knowing smile.
“What in the name of the Goddess has you all riled up?” Eris, the healer for the shifter community popped in front of them, a look of annoyance on her face. Until she saw Leeds, that is. At the sight of Leeds, a sly smile crossed the witch’s face.
“Not funny, Eris,” Izzy said.
Eris crossed her arms and raised her chin. “It was for your own good, Dora.”
“Who’s Dora?” Leeds asked looking back and forth between the two women and seeing Izzy flush once again.
“She is,” Eris said, pointing at Izzy before Izzy could say a word.
“Isadora.” Izzy cleared her throat and shrugged a bit. “I wasn’t really myself that night.”
A growl came from deep in his chest and Leeds was shocked to realize why. He didn’t want her feeling in any way like she should be embarrassed about being herself with him or like she should try to hide who she was. And that’s what she was doing right now. He could see it. She was trying to pretend the buttoned up version of Izzy he saw here was all she was. That the Izzy who’d been free and wild with him was a fluke. Like hell. That was no fluke.
And the truth was, he didn’t care which one she was. He wanted them both. He wanted buttoned up Dora as much as he wanted wild and free Izzy. He wanted Isadora.
Of course, then it dawned on him that his desire for her might be a result of whatever screwed up curse Eris had put on him. He turned to the healer.
“What did you do to me?”
She raised her hands, palms out and gave a nervous giggle. “I just made sure you’d need to track her down again, that’s all. I knew she wouldn’t tell you her real name, so I was just giving her a little insurance plan.”
Leeds looked at the crazy witch. “So you made sure I couldn’t stop thinking about her?”
“Oh, no,” Eris said with a mischievous grin. “That part was all you. I just made sure your magic would get all wonky if you thought about sex in any way. I figured you’d connect it up to your night with Dora and come find her again. The fact that the only witch you were thinking about was her is all on you.”
“That makes no sense, Eris,” Izzy said, but Leeds cut in.
“The curse, Eris. Get rid of it,” he bit out, his irritation mounting.
“Sure,” she said, with another shrug, as though she hadn’t just put all of the shifter community at risk.
She raised her hands and chanted a spell. He didn’t feel any different, but just in case, he mentally stripped Izzy. Yup. He was turned on as all hell, but his magic didn’t go anywhere. He was free.
“If you don’t mind, Eris,” he began politely but gave up halfway through. “Beat it.”
Her smile was wide as she teleported away without another word.
Leeds stepped forward, looking at a wide eyed Izzy. He slipped one arm behind her waist and threaded his fingers into that lush brown hair he’d felt in his dreams for weeks. “Izzy,” he said.
“Dora,” she replied and took a breath as though she planned to tell him she wasn’t the witch he’d been searching for. Before she could utter a word, he pulled her close and kissed her, letting all he had to say go into the kiss instead.
When he felt her body sway and lean into him, relaxing as she kissed him back, he slowed, gently brushing his lips back and forth against hers. He pulled back.
“Isadora,” he said. “How about you just be Isadora for me and we’ll see where this goes.”
She nodded before going up on tiptoes to kiss him again.
Thank you for reading! I hope you liked the follow-up story for Leeds. I ended up really falling for him when I wrote Any Witch Way. If I have time down the road, I’ll try to either do some follow up short bits to send you about him and Isadora, or maybe even write a book with their full story some day!