Dexter Grant, the inspiration for the greatest superhero of all time, lives in reduced circumstances. Now he runs a pet store in Portland, Oregon, and privately calls himself a Kitten Superhero because he saves stray animals. He aspires to something greater, but his magic has been restricted—by the Fates.
The Fates, three women who control the magical universe. Only they’ve lost their position, and they’re on the run. They’ve turned to an old friend for help, but that friend is dead. Her niece, Vivian Kineally, runs her estate. Vivian, who doesn’t even know magic exists. Vivian, who loves comic books. Vivian, who also happens to be psychic.
The Fates steer Vivian to Dexter Grant. They want his help. He’s not willing to give it. But now that he’s met Vivian, he’s not willing to give her up either. Dexter Grant must save the Fates—and discover his own fate, all at the same time.
Book One of the Fates Trilogy.
Nominated for Best Contemporary Paranormal Romance from RT Book Reviews!
Kristine Grayson (a penname of USA Today bestseller Kristine Kathryn Rusch) is one of those astonishing writers who writes masterfully in every genre she touches. I first read this light-hearted paranormal tale shortly after we met and then decided that I needed to read more of her writing. I inhaled the entire “Fates Trilogy” and then filled much of my to-read list with her writings, no matter the genre. I am honored to also call her a friend. – M.L. Buchman
"Simply Irresistible is an enchanting blend of sweet romance, mythology, and magic as Grayson puts her own unique magical stamp on figures from Greek myths and fairy tales, including a deliciously over-the-top super villain and a hero who inspired the creation of Superman. And Grayson’s clever, humor-tinged writing is absolutely delightful."–Booklist
"Zany and over-the-top, this playful novel is a delight."–Publisher’s Weekly
"Simply Irresistible truly lives up to its name! Vivian and Dexter are a delight and true soulmates. Danger, humor and passion are all here and in full force."–RT Book Reviews
"Kristine Grayson gives ‘happily ever after’ her own unique twist!"–Kasey Michaels
Dexter Grant brought his laptop to the store, along with the nursing mother and her kittens. The mother cat wasn't too thrilled with him. So far, he'd taken her and her brood to the vet, to his home, and now back to the store.
She'd actually tried to bite him when he picked up their basket this morning. He was keeping a close eye on her, knowing the ways of mothering cats. She'd had enough interference with her litter in the past twenty-four hours—and she probably remembered searching for them in the woods, that awful sense of panic when she couldn't find them. If he so much as looked at the kittens wrong, he knew she'd hide them somewhere inside the store.
The last thing he wanted to do was spend the day searching for a cat hiding place.
Dex rubbed his eyes. He hadn't gotten much sleep. Between caring for the kittens and having nightmares about kittens, he felt as if he were taking care of a whole brood instead of only a handful.
Because he'd arrived early, he had opened the store, turning on the outdoor lights and feeding the fish—a task that had almost gotten the mother cat's full attention. The only thing that kept her near her basket was the can of tuna-flavored cat food he'd given her. He could almost see her thought processes. She couldn't tell if he was a good or a bad guy, but she was willing to reserve judgment so long as he fed her well.
He was seated behind the counter, the basket at his feet. The computerized cash register hummed behind him, and his laptop was open on the other counter. The radio was playing a syndicated blues program that came out of Texas and whose DJ clearly knew what he was talking about.
Dex rarely missed the show, and it was keeping him company now. It certainly suited his mood. Even though the only lost loves he'd ever had had been beloved pets who'd died, he understood the blues. Maybe it was the loneliness that was a part of the music. In all his years, he'd never had anyone who had been able to help him, who had known him well enough to take some of the burdens of his life off him.
Like this burden. He was searching his database for customers who had bought cat food in the past five years, people who had multiple animals. He was running out of potential cat parents. He'd already asked all of his friends to take previous kittens left at the store. He didn't believe in taking perfectly healthy cats to the shelter—dumping his problems on someone else—and he didn't have enough money to put a special ad in the paper.
The vet suggested that he look through his old client records to see who might be amenable to adopting a kitten, but the farther he got into this project, the more Dex realized he couldn't do it.
Maybe he should just do a bulk mailing—50 percent off cat food and cat supplies for the next three months if someone took a kitten off his hands. Of course, that didn't solve his real dilemma.
He didn't trust people he didn't know to take care of their animals. He gave his customers the third degree—and the fourth, and the fifth—and sometimes he used his magic illegally to spy on them. He'd even been known to take an animal back if he thought someone was abusing it.
Dex looked down at the basket. The kittens were nursing, except for one adventurous black-and-white who was crawling across the tile floor and mewing. Dex picked him up by the scruff of his fuzzy little neck.
"I know you want to explore," he said, "but this store isn't the best place for that."
The kitten mewled and pinwheeled its little back legs with their sharp kitten-claws. Its eyes were still milky, but filled with life.
Dex found himself grinning at the tiny thing. His real problem was that he wanted to make sure everyone in the world—from kitten to adult human—was safe and loved. If he could, he would adopt every stray cat that crossed his path. But he already had a houseful of pets. He didn't dare bring home any more or Nurse Ratched would find a way to eviscerate him in his sleep.
He put the kitten back in the basket and was helping it toward its mother's stomach just as the bell jingled above his door.
He sighed. It was his own fault. Even though it wasn't much past 8 a.m, a customer had found him. Probably some cranky customer with a stray Doberman she wanted him to buy.
"Excuse me?" a woman spoke from the door. She had a husky voice, warm and attractive. It sent a thrill down his spine.
He sat up slowly and peered over the counter. The woman was small and bookish. She had curly brown hair that tumbled around her face, obscuring her features. Her oversized glasses magnified her brown eyes. And she had her arms wrapped around her waist like the teenage girls in his one-room school used to do ninety years ago, when they were asking the boys to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance.
"What can I do for you?" Dex made the question friendlier than he normally would have because she looked so uncomfortable.
She came deeper into the store, and the light from the aquariums caught her face. Her skin was the color of the perfect tan, even though he had a hunch this woman never went outdoors. And she had bow-shaped lips, a pert nose, and cheekbones that were so high that they gave definition to her entire face.
In fact, if she brushed the hair away from her forehead, got glasses that suited her, and stood up straight, she would be a beautiful woman.
Or, more accurately, it would be apparent to the entire world that she was a beautiful woman. But somehow he was glad that the entire world had to work to see her that way. That way, he wouldn't have to share her.
And then he flushed. He never had thoughts like that. Never.
One of the kittens mewled. The woman came closer. She smelled of rosewater, a scent he hadn't smelled in fifty years. A scent he loved.
"Kittens?" she asked, peering over the counter.
Dex looked down. The black-and-white had escaped again. Apparently the little brat hadn't been hungry and had decided to continue on his search of the great tiled frontier.
"Some lady left them yesterday," Dex said. "I usually don't handle cats."
"I thought you were a pet store," the woman said.
He shook his head, wishing she hadn't said that. He found her so attractive, and she had uttered the most irritating phrase in his life. He wasn't the pet store. He was the pet store—
"I'm sorry," she said. "I meant, I thought this was a pet store. Jeez, I'm not at my best today."
Dex looked up at her, feeling stunned. It was almost as if she heard what he was thinking. But she couldn't, could she? She would be a mage someday—the power fairly sparked off her—but she was too young to have come into it already.
"It's all right," he said. "I sell pet supplies. And fish. Lots of fish."
She nodded. "I would think getting rid of kittens would be hard, anyway. I mean, you never know who's buying them."
"Exactly," he said. "Why don't more people understand that?"
She gave a one-shoulder shrug. "I have trouble parting with collectibles. I can't imagine what it would be like dealing with living creatures."
Someone who understood. No one had ever given him perfect understanding before. They always thought of their own pets but never of all the others. Obviously this woman did.
Dex smiled at her and extended his hand. "I'm Dexter Grant."
She bit her lower lip. He got the sense, fleeting but powerful, that she had been looking for someone else.
Then she smiled. It lit up her entire face and brought out that hidden beauty. He felt slightly dizzy. Then he realized he had forgotten to breathe.
She took his hand, and her fingers were soft and dry. "Vivian Kinneally."
Dex resisted the urge to take that slight hand and bring it to his lips.
Vivian Kinneally stared at him as if she were daring him to do so. Then she slipped her hand from his and pressed her fingers against her right temple. "Things are never easy when you want them to be."
"Easy? So I take it you didn't come to adopt a kitten."
Her smile faded. Her fingers continued rubbing, as if she were trying to massage away a headache. "I wish. Actually, I came looking for someone."
"Oh?" He tensed in spite of himself. His sense had been right. She had been looking for someone else and she was disappointed to find him.
She nodded. "I'm not even sure this is the right place. I mean, it meets the description my friends—well, they're not really my friends, they're more like…intruders, but they're the ones who sent me, and—"
"Who're you looking for?"
"Jeez," she said again, and he found that he liked the old-fashioned slang term when he heard it from her. "I'm even talking like them."
She waved her left hand dismissively. "It's a long story."
Her skin had paled noticeably. She seemed to be going gray, as if the pain she felt were getting worse. He wanted to touch her temples and magic the pain away, but he didn't. He knew better. Sudden magic startled people.
"You can tell me," he said.
She shook her head, then put her left hand on the counter, as if catching her balance. "No. I'd like to appear at least slightly sane."
The kitten mewled again, and then Dex felt needle-sharp claws digging into his calf. The damn thing had jumped onto his leg.
"One second," he said, and reached down. He scooped up the kitten, holding it gently, and raised it to his face. "I'm going to start calling you Marco Polo if you're not careful, little one."
The kitten mewled again, and his mother looked up from her basket. Dex put the kitten back into it, but Marco Polo marched toward the edge before Dex had a chance to sit up.
"Cute," Vivian said.
"They all are at that age. But I have a hunch that little guy is going to be a handful."
She had both hands on the counter now. He was wondering if she was dizzy.
"Do you need to sit down?" he asked.
"No," she said. "I just need to find someone. Do you know an Henri Barou?"
He felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. His real name was Henri Barou, but no one knew that. He'd left that name behind eighty years ago because he'd hated it so much. Since then, he'd stolen his names from movie characters he admired. This one came from C.K. Dexter-Haven, Cary Grant's character in The Philadelphia Story, a man who was decidedly wittier and smarter than Dex could ever hope to be.
"No," he said, but the answer was a beat too late.
Despite her obvious pain, she gave him a penetrating look. "Why are you lying to me?"
He wasn't sure how to answer. He hadn't covered well. Should he tell her that Henri Barou sold the store to him or that—
"You're Henri Barou," she said. "Why did you tell me you're Dexter Grant?"
"I am Dexter Grant," he snapped.
"And Henri Barou." She rubbed the bridge of her nose. "They mentioned you might use a different name."
Dex frowned. Who knew his real name? Not many people. No one alive, at least no one he could think of. If people knew a mage's real name, they could have power over him.
He needed to know who gave this woman his name, and who pointed her in the right direction. Apparently he had enemies out there he wasn't even aware of.
"Who told mentioned that my name might be different?"
She blinked, and he got the sense of real pain wafting off her. Normally he would have insisted that she sit down, but he was unnerved by the changes.
"Well, this is where it gets strange," she said. "This morning, three women appeared at my apartment, claiming they were in trouble. They say their names are Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, and they call themselves the Fates. It gets weirder than that. Are you sure you want to hear about it?"
He wasn't sure. But he remembered that dream, and the feeling of foreboding it had given him. Were the Fates warning him? That would make more sense than anything this Vivian was telling him.
He couldn't believe the Fates had come to her place. They never left their judicial court and quarters. Often they changed the look of the quarters. In fact, whenever he'd been there, it had never looked the same.
"What's really going on?" Dex asked.
Vivian shrugged. "I don't entirely understand it. They say they're in trouble and they need your help."
A surge of anger ran through him. They did this to test him. If they pleaded trouble, then they could see if he would rush to their rescue. Of course, they were involving a mortal. Well, technically, she wasn't a mortal, but she hadn't come into her magic yet. Which make it all the more likely that this was a Fate trick. They didn't like people who interfered with mortal lives.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I've never heard of these women and I don't know why they think I can help them."
"Why do you lie?" Vivian asked.
His gaze met hers. The pain in her eyes seemed unbearable. Before he even thought it through, he hurried around the counter and put his arms around her. She was soft, and tinier than he had expected. He helped her to his chair, which was the only one in the front of the store.
"Should I call a doctor?" he asked.
She was vibrating with pain. The muscles in her shoulders were taut.
"No," she said. "No, really. I'm all right. This'll pass."
Then he realized what was going on. He should have realized it when he saw all that power sparking off her. "You're psychic."
She closed her eyes. "I'm sorry."
He hadn't expected that response. "Sorry? Why?"
"I didn't mean to cause trouble or to call you a liar. It's just that these women seem so desperate, and they told me to come here. You know who they are, right?"
No sense lying any longer. She would see through it all. "Yes."
"So they are magical?"
"And so are you." It wasn't a question. She was getting a sense of him. "You also believe that they're lying so that they can hurt you."
"Yes," he said, feeling inadequate.
"Why would they want to hurt you?"
"Because they're bored?" She opened her eyes. "Are people in your world that cruel? No. They're crueler."
He was answering her questions without even speaking. He hadn't ever been around anyone with this much psychic ability. Or perhaps he was broadcasting his thoughts. He was upset, and that could cause broadcasting. And he found her so incredibly attractive that he could be forcing a connection where there wasn't one.
He hoped she hadn't caught that last thought.
"Can I get you something for your headache?"
"No," she said. "I already took something. It'll get better. They always do. Why would they hurt you?"
It took him a moment to deal with the transition. They no longer meant headache. They meant the Fates.
"I'll deal with them," he said. "I'll be right back."
He went to the front door of the shop and locked it, turning the OPEN sign to CLOSED. Then he scooped up Marco Polo, who had followed him, placed the kitten on Vivian's lap, and walked to the back room.
He needed a little privacy for this spell, and he didn't want to think about what he was going to do until he got back there, since he seemed to be shouting every thought.
The back room was crowded with unloaded boxes of Science Diet and Iams cat food, books on all the various fish, and some aquariums ordered by a new restaurant but not yet picked up. He hadn't put an office back here, preferring to work out front, but there was an area for animals that he didn't want to sell, an area that dated from the time when he really took pets.
Directly in front of him was the outside door. He double-checked the deadbolt and pushed on the steel just to make certain it was closed tightly. Then he closed the door to the tiny bathroom as well.
Precautions, precautions. He hadn't used magic this powerful in the store in years.
Then he clenched his fists, trying to hold in all the anger he was feeling. He would save that until he saw those harpies face-to-face.
"To the Fates," he said, and disappeared in a puff of smoke.