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Ursa Unearthed - Sample Chapters

Ambar Lenn – Fate's Journey

Alone in the dark, Aust sat at the bottom of the grand staircase of Jade's manse, staring at the cryptic words mounted on the foyer wall. Translated by the Centaur, Chiron of Deleran, the Queen Oracles' prophesy hung opposite the double entrance doors. Aust's Elven brothers and warrior friends boasted thoughts and theories as to its meaning, but theories they remained. And on nights when reverie evaded him—which occurred more oft than not—he sat within the silent stone walls of Jade's new home and tried to glean the prophesy's meaning:

Journey of Fate, two realms to purge

Weapons drawn against the Scourge

Blaze of passion,

Trust unearthed,

Cleansing of past,

Spirit rebirthed,

Fate or free-will, which to choose?

With love to gain and life to lose.

Darkness hides in familiar form

A brother's betrayal, a sister's storm

Empower lost souls or evil shall reign

Noble the child of argenteous mane

Journey of Fate—the first line referred to their Ambar Lenn, everyone agreed on that point. Four fortnights past, the inception of his, Galan's and Thamior's journey to manhood had triggered unforeseen events. On that night—the night the exile of his people was lifted—the three of them had set off from the Highborne village to find their path.

Aust had yet to find anything . . . save grief.

His Eda had been slain, his Naneth left heart-weary, and his people so offended by his goddess-given affinity to communicate with his animal brothers and sisters, they cast him out.

Galan fared well enough, and for at least that much, he rejoiced. Jade was a remarkable female, and to have Recognized with his mate . . . there was no greater blessing. Together, partners in life and purpose, the two now served Castian as Protectors of the Realm of the Fair.

Thamior's journey? Well . . . Tham remained Tham e'ermore. Aust marveled at the strength of spirit the male possessed, his love and wonder of all things, the simple joy he found in living free within the Realm of the Fair. Tham had yet to make any progress in his journey, yet paid it no mind.

Weapons drawn against the Scourge—Aust was more than ready to take up arms against the enemy of the realm. He yearned to prove his value, burned to avenge his dead. There were moments, the fury boiled so white-hot in his blood, he almost drowned in the lure of vengeance and pain. He quelled those impulses as best he could.

For the choices made to navigate the journey of the Ambar Lenn would determine if he could ever be thought of as a male of worth. And so he pushed back the anguish and the anger and waited . . . .


~ Chapter 1 ~

"Ah hell Paige, you're killing me." I shook my head and sighed as my boss steadied her boots on the bench beside me and straightened. Swaying full hips to the bass line of the Goth-rock blaring at us from all sides, she clinked her glass with a spoon and waited until my friends raised their glasses.

I glanced across the pitted, wooden table and over the sea of eclectic patrons. Were the exploits of my intimate office soirée registering with the crowd in the anything-goes pub? Nope. High-backed leather booths lined three sides of the dance floor, secluding those of us who were seated in our own little rectangular worlds. Besides, the hedonistic hypnotism of the crowd held everyone's attention locked down tight.

Annnd that is the beauty of Spankz.

"Here's to Mika," Paige said, her mocha cheeks flushed from celebration. "The Nimithic Group may have thought themselves untouchable, but were they?"

"Nooo," my girls chimed in.

"That's right. Thirty-four counts of trading in illegal exotics, five warrants for arrest, three properties searched, and the largest seizure of black market animal products in Canadian history taught them different."

"Fucking A!" Meg placed two fingertips in her mouth and nearly popped my eardrums with the shriek of her whistle.

"Now ladies," Page continued, "let's down a hearty drink in honour of the most decorated investigative journalist Canada's wildlife has ever seen. A woman who takes warm and fuzzy to a new level, who, quite honestly, could spend a little less time with her pets and a lot more time getting petted, our very own . . . Mika "The Bandit" Silverbrook."

"Wooo Mika!"

Focused on the glowing red beacon of the Exit sign across the dance floor, I considered my odds of escape. Not good. They'd just drag me back by my hair. "Thanks guys. Oh, for god's sake Paige, get down before you fall." I tugged at her skin-tight jeans until we were all seated around our table. "Really, thank you, but can we get back to the drinking and dancing and stop with the dinner theatre?"

Paige snorted. "Whatever you say, honey. It's your—"

I held up one finger as the vibration changed in the air around us. Fishing into the front pocket of my jeans I grabbed my phone and waited. When my ring tone sounded and the Heartbeat Drum Song started, I answered it. "Grandfather? Everything all right?"

"My question to you, Rabbit," Grandfather said, his graveled voice unusually thin. "You were mentioned on the news tonight. Are you safe and well?"

Damn. If I'd been at home tonight, I would have remembered to call him before he saw the eleven o'clock news. I touched my cheek as it tingled beneath his mystical caress and I breathed deep. "I'm fine. I'm sorry. I should have called."

The pause on the other end of the phone tightened my gut. "The destination is not as important as the path, child. The power is in the path."

Grandfather didn't like my path, even so, he supported me. The only thing he asked was that I kept him involved while I worked in the city so he wouldn't worry. "I'm coming to the reserve next weekend. We have a date with your telescope and a comet, don't we?"

"We do." The rhythmic tap of his cane in the background spoke volumes about his mood. I could picture him sitting in the willow chair at the base of his stairs, his silver braids hanging forward as he leaned over the old walnut phone table. This late, he'd have his threadbare Thunderbird blanket wrapped over his curled shoulders.

"I'm sorry I worried you, Grandfather. It won't happen again."

The tapping stopped and the tightness in my gut eased.

"You make an old man proud, Rabbit. A true guardian of the Earth Mother. Now go back to your evening with your friends. I look forward to seeing you."

After saying goodnight, I flipped my phone shut, then refocused on the scene in front of me. "Sorry. What did I miss?"

Paige wagged her finger toward my phone, her eyes narrowed. "One day you'll tell me how you do that phone trick. I swear you're psychic or something."

Or something.

Paige sputtered mid-swig and lowered her Cosmo, coughing. From our table, near the back hall, we had a clear view of the club's landscape. She cleared her throat and pointed, not-too-discretely toward the front of the pub. "Major stud alert, four o'clock."

Cue the peanut gallery: "Oh, I need me one of those." "Yep. Click, add to cart." "Call my travel agent. I'm eloping."

I laughed, but they weren't wrong. The half-naked sea of dancers parted for two men. Shoulder to shoulder they stood looking like cover models—if GQ ever printed a tall dark and lethal edition. One was about six-foot-four, had ink-black hair, a goatee, guy-liner and a half dozen platinum piercings. He looked like a Goth hit man, all tone, no fat. His body language said he'd take you down and enjoy the carnage—whether fucking or fighting.

The other stood a little shorter and balanced a perfect blend of bad-boy meets muscle builder. Collar length, medium brown hair fell messy around a chiseled face while shaggy bangs hid his eyes. His worn leather vest covered a crisp white, button-down shirt hanging untucked over blue jeans. Good gosh, Hugo Boss. Designer denim hugged thick, muscular thighs. Casual classy was something we didn't see a lot of in this club. The charge in the air shifted and the hair on my arms stood on end.

"Those hard bodies are making promises for a wild, night." Em breathed.

"And every woman in here knows it." Meg nodded.

I giggled at the estrogen surge in my posse. "Okay, I'm off to the bar. You ladies close your mouths before someone offers to fill them for you." With the next-round list in my head I skirted the dance floor and made my way to the main bar.

"Blender drinks will take a sec, hon," the bartender said. "You mind waiting while I thin out this crowd a bit?"

"Not a problem." I turned toward the dance floor and rested my elbows on the wood rail while the show unfolded. You have to love a place where women in go-go boots and micro mini's jockey with body-painted metro-sexuals for the honour of shaking their junk in cages.

Fifteen minutes of fame.

I chuckled as two Barbie-blondes in thigh-highs and bustiers started sword fighting with their tongues in the cage closest to me. Always a good time.

"Here you go, hon." I whirled around, but the bartender wasn't speaking to me. She handed a frosted tumbler to the drop-dead, vest guy with the shaggy hair. "I'll send the bottle and your tab to the back, baby. You boys setting up camp in VIP?"

He emptied his glass and set it up for a refill. "That's the plan. Hey Laney, how's that little girl of yours? Still as stunning as her Mama?"

"More," she replied and topped up his glass, "but she's not so little any more, Bruin. She turned seventeen last month and boys are lined up around the block."

He arched a brow and leaned over the bar. "If you need a hand beating them off, give me a call. I'd be happy to scare a few dogs out of your yard."

She laughed and shook her head. After popping the caps off two Coronas, she squeezed quartered limes down the bottle necks and set them on a tray. "That would be a big-ole no thanks. She'd never forgive you and I'd never hear the end of it. For some reason she thinks the sun rises and sets on you, Bruin."

He sipped from his glass and shrugged. "The girl's got impeccable taste."

Down the bar, a pink haired chippie in a seventies, vinyl onesie waved. The bartender chuckled as she headed off. "Duty calls, baby."

Settling back against the rail, I heard the clink and swish of ice cubes grow louder until drop-dead guy leaned in beside me. As my senses tingled, I gave myself a brisk inward shake and stared straight out into the club. He took another swig and gazed into the writhing bodies—maybe taking inventory of the prospects for the night.

There were plenty to pick from and I wondered what a man like him would hunger for. I eyed the after-office flocks unwinding, the usual leather clad party girls advertising easy pick up, the scary chicks dressed like Dracula with safety pins through their purple painted lips, and the ever amusing dazed and confused who probably walked in off the street unaware—and now found-themselves lost in the Twilight Zone.

He rested his arms on the rail next to me and his white cotton shirt strained to contain his shoulders and biceps. "Busy tonight."

"Mhmm."

"So tell me pretty lady, what band are you with?" The din of the club couldn't drown out the rich, cultured timbre of his voice, but really . . . was that the best he had?

I leaned back a bit to get a good look at him. "Sorry, not a musician."

With a flip of his bangs, his eyes stole my breath. Against the dim light cast by brass and glass sconces, those two turquoise pools practically glowed. He looked me up and down without apology. How many times had he choreographed that move to dazzle a woman?

Full lips eased into a heart-stopping smile. "Not that kind of band," he drawled. "You're First Nations. What band you're from?"

I ignored his cocky smirk and studied his chiseled features. "What gave me away?"

He sipped at the clear liquid in his glass and studied me back. "Well the copper skin, chestnut hair and deep brown eyes are obvious. More impressive though, is your essence of being one with the Earth. It sets you apart from every other female in this crowd."

It took a minute for my mind to grasp that little tidbit. Was he kidding or was that the most original pick up line ever? He nursed his drink and watched me. Too sexy to be real. He probably had an ego the size of Vancouver Island.

"You're all set, miss." I forced myself to turn and reached for the tray the bartender held out. "Sorry for the wait, hon. It's crazy here tonight."

"It certainly is." I nodded farewell and headed back to my table. After my girls each claimed their libations and sucked back a swig, we moved en masse to the dance floor. Hunk-in-vest still stood at the rail where I'd left him, assessing the sea of leather and denim, muscle and grind. When he tipped his glass to me, I turned my back and swayed to the music.

Well, if he was looking I should at least give him something to see. Right?

Releasing the clip in my hair I let it loose to fall down my back. Liane's jaw dropped when Meg sidled up and brushed her hands over my backside in a little girl-on-girl action.

Meg leaned in close and whispered, "He's still looking at you."

Wrap him up, I'll take him to go.

The rest of the sexually charged patrons and the thrum of music melted away. His heated gaze traveled over my body like a physical caress. Warmth tingled down my back, along my curves and paused on my ass. As one song blended into the next, my girls and I kept up the show. The club could've burned to the ground around me and I'd never have noticed. The next song sped the tempo way up, so I opted out and left them to it.

Back at our table, I sipped my Long Island and waited to see if hot-guy nibbled the bait.

"Mika?"

My smile faded as I turned. "Do I know you?"

 Three, skull-trimmed, biker types closed in and my inner sense itched like a colony of ants scrambling from the nape of my neck down my back. Mother Earth was never wrong and I never questioned her warnings. I side-stepped to head back to my girls, but not fast enough.

The three shifted to intercept.

"Sorry boys, my dance cards full tonight."

The tallest thug grabbed my wrist and spun me down the back hall. Iron fingers clamped my shoulder and twisted my arm behind my back. A cloth tightened over my mouth and I screamed against the inside of a gag. The noise of the club swallowed the sound. Fabric pulled tight and split the corners of my mouth. My pulse thrummed through my veins. My mind spun. They confiscated my phone and my Taser was in my purse at our booth.

As Curly, Larry and Moe swept me down the dark corridor, I remembered seeing some specialist on Oprah saying, 'never let your enemy take you to a secondary location.'

"You fucked with the wrong people, bitch." Hot breath washed my cheek, the reek of tobacco and whiskey, assaulting my senses. The old familiar duo made my gut churn.

Shoved from behind, I stumbled down the deserted hall toward the back door. At each washroom door I prayed someone would step out. No luck.

"You have no idea what you've stepped in."

Moe burst out the back door and dragged me into what the locals called 'heroin alley'. I threw my hands out and clawed to find purchase as the tall guy pushed us forward. Out-weighted and out-muscled I couldn't find a hold. Two hands were no match for six. The heat of the summer night hit me like a wall and panic rose in my chest. Three strung-out party-goers scrambled and scattered without a second look. The slam of the steel door trapped us out back.

I might be a dead-woman-walking, but I'd go down with a fight.

Think Mika. I sucked in some courage and slammed my boot heel into the top of my captor's foot. Twisting down with all my weight I made a solid grab for his crotch. My hands aren't big, but I grabbed all I could and squeezed like I was juicing an orange.

When he buckled . . . I bolted.

Someone caught a handful of my hair and whiplashed me back. White spots exploded behind my eyes as a fist connected with my face. The smack of knuckles on skin echoed and my cheek caught fire.

"Fucking bitch!" Tall guy palmed himself with the heel of his hand while his buddy used his grip in my hair to force me into the shadows. My skull screamed. I flailed behind my head, but couldn't get free from his grasp. "Gimme a minute and then we'll teach this one some manners."

Bile stung the back of my throat as I got shoved down the alley and against the crumbling brick of the next building. Gorilla fingers worked at my button fly as a solid knee forced my thighs open. Another slam and my head cracked against the wall at my back. My head throbbed. My senses sloshed. I twisted and gouged, but couldn't get his hands out of my jeans.

"Damn it, grab her arms!"

I screamed behind the gag, my voice useless. Tall guy's meaty hands pinned both my wrists against brick. My shoulders burned like they might pop out of joint.

Thud. Third guy sprawled past and face planted on the damp pavement. Huh?

"She needs to work on manners?" The deep husky tone of hunk-in-vest growled beside me. "Three against one seems downright rude."

My head spun as both my captors disappeared and my body was released. The instant loss of force knocked me off balance. Strong arms caught me before I hit the ground and eased me to sit with my back against the brick wall. My eyes welled, blurring the image of Bruin—I think that's what the bartender called him—coming to my rescue. Gentle fingers made quick work of the knot of my gag and it fell away.

"Don't move, 'kay? Let us handle this." When I nodded he wheeled around and planted himself in front of me. "How about we even things up a bit, Kobi?"

The black-haired, GQ friend smiled and I swear his eyes flashed red in the darkness. A trick of the moonlight, maybe. The two moved in graceful tandem. They'd obviously done this before and probably enjoyed it when a fight dropped at their feet.

Bruin loomed large as he tipped his neck from side to side and rolled thickly muscled shoulders. "Care to dance, gentlemen? Or do you only fight women?"

Five men scrambled into a flurry of fists. The thud and slap of flesh on flesh ricocheted from all sides. My teeth started chattering. I pulled my knees up and dropped my head across my arms. I didn't want to be here. I wanted to run, but my body wasn't listening to me at the moment. Someone knelt in front of me and I jumped.

Bruin held his palms up and froze. "You okay?"

No. After a moment, I managed to nod. "Fine. Shaky, but fine. Are they tied up?"

"Nah," he glanced over his shoulder. "They're taking a little nap. They won't wake up until it's time for their meet-and-greet with the boys in blue."

"Speaking of," Kobi said, a few feet away. I lifted my gaze and watched his cigarette glow to life. "I'll get security and call D. Be right back."

After Kobi disappeared into the club, Bruin held my gaze. "Let's get you off the wet ground, shall we?"

He scooped under my knees and eased me against his chest like a weightless child. Though my muscles protested the movement, I draped one arm over his broad, thick shoulder. He set me on a brick retaining wall that bordered the loading dock. With a scowl, he brushed the hair from my face and ran a gentle thumb over the flaming patch of skin on my cheek. "That's going to leave a mark."

Lucky me. "Why do guys do that? Hit a woman square in the face. Do they teach that move in bastard school?"

"Couldn't tell you. I didn't attend that class."

I shuddered as an icy shiver worked down my spine. He shifted closer, letting his body heat seep under my skin.

"Your eyes are really beautiful." I winced as the words rolled off my tongue and wished I could rewind my mouth. Oh. My. God. My cheeks flushed hot. They were beautiful—a vibrant turquoise blue, almost electric. Magnetic. But really, your eyes are really beautiful?

His laugh was soft and enchanting. "Thank you. How about you take a few deep breaths. I think you're a little shocky. In. Out. In. Out."

His Goth friend returned with the bouncer who'd been rocking the mic and headset at the front door when I arrived. The white 'Security' stretched across his broad-as-a-football-field chest sent a pretty clear message to anyone thinking of stirring up trouble. He glanced down at the three piles of biker-contusion on the asphalt and chuckled. "It's always fun when you boys are in town. Go inside. When Delgato gets here I'll set him up in my office for question period."

"Thanks, man." Bruin helped me from the ledge and walked me inside. When I wobbled in the back hall, he put one hand on my hip and pulled me against him. "We're not dancing here, pretty lady. Give me your weight until your legs steady. Trust me, I can handle it."

I was sure he could.


~ Chapter 2 ~

I must've looked bad—like train-wreck bad—because when we emerged into the main area of the club my girls swarmed. Bruises would be unavoidable, but not yet noticeable. My cheek, however, had a flaming pulse of its own and felt like it had throbbed to ten times its usual size. After recapping the heroin alley highlight reel, and the fact that I'd pissed someone off, I convinced my friends that I was in good hands and none the worse for wear.

"Take a week or two off, Mika." Paige put up her hand and halted my protest. "If this is fallout from your exposé on the Nimithic Group, keep your head down and visit your granddad for a while. There will be plenty of bad guys for you to persecute when the dust settles."

I smiled, but then winced when my cheek stung. "I might take you up on that."

"I'm not offering. I'm telling."

The thought of spending a week on the reserve sounded beyond perfect. It had been ages since Grandfather and I had taken time to commune with nature together. "Fine, bossy lady. I'll swing by the office and grab some files tomorrow and then take a little vacation."

"Good." Paige hugged me and when she pulled back, she glanced toward the bar where Bruin stood chatting with the bartender. "If you get the chance . . . a little crotch mingling with that one would be a great way to burn off some stress and pass time."

"Classy."

She shrugged. "I'm a poet."

"We better watch out, or Hallmark will be scooping you away from us." I looked back to the bar and Bruin turned, cocked a brow and lifted his glass to his lips.

Someone tapped my shoulder and I gasped.

"Shit, sorry." The security guy frowned. "The cops are almost done outside. Are you ready to talk to them?"

Why was my heart racing? I'd given dozens of statements for work . . . but never as the victim of violence. I didn't want to think about. . . .

My hands started to shake again.

Bruin strode over and I fumbled for his glass. "You won't like this. Let me get you—"

I arched my brow and he returned the look. Had I ever seen anything cuter? I focused on stilling my hand between us. "Afraid of a little DNA transfer?"

"Not at all." With a shrug, he let his tumbler loose.

I took a deep gulp of the clear liquid and immediately regretted it. Lighter fluid . . . eating down the length of my esophagus . . . Holy hell. How could anyone find paint thinner refreshing? Proud that I neither choked nor sputtered, I held out his glass and blinked back tears.

He fought a smile and thankfully took the glass before I dropped it. "It's likely stronger than you're accustomed to. They stock it by request for Kobi and me."

I tried unsuccessfully to regain my composure. "What is that?"

His deep throaty laugh made his eyes sparkle. "Everclear. It's vodka, but it's strong."

Strong? "I think it just ate the lining of my stomach."

He caught the attention of a server standing at the bar and she sidled over, beaming. "What can I get you, Bruin?"

He looked down at me seemingly unaware of her affections. I cleared my throat of the last of his killer vodka, but still couldn't find my voice. He chuckled again. "How about a Long Island? That's what you were drinking earlier, right?"

I shook my head but that was a bad idea. "Ginger-ale . . . please."

"Coming up," the server said.

"Uh . . . thanks for the rescue," I mumbled, tilting my head toward the back hall. "I don't want to think about what might have happened if you and your friend hadn't been here."

Bruin cast a gaze to the back hall and his jaw clenched tight. Like the flip of a switch, his easy charm vanished and a menacing shadow darkened his expression. If I met him on a street looking like that, I would change sides or go the other way.

I stepped back and looked again with an observer's eye. His shirt remained crisp white. Not a mark on him. Aggression oozed out of him. Primitive. Predatory. Who was this guy to take on those thugs and remain pristine? How is that possible? Should I feel threatened? Yes. I should. So, why did I find that intriguing and not a giant red flashing warning sign?

When a plain-clothed officer headed our way, I knew I was up. "It was nice almost meeting you. It's Bruin, right?"

He tipped back the last of his drink and nodded. "And you are?"

I slid my hand into his. "Mika Silverbrook."

With a quick smirk, he accepted my drink from the server and set it in the palm of my hand. The cop joined us and the two men shook hands. "Mika, this is Detective Enrique Delgato, or D for short. And D, this is Mika Silverbrook."

Detective Delgato, a distinguished-looking man—despite his nose being broken once too often and its slight dogleg left—was Hispanic, fit, and wore his hair military short. "Seems you've had quite a night, Miss Silverbrook. If you'll come with me. This won't take long."

Walking Detective Delgato through the club to detail the excitement of the night turned out to be easier than I thought. When we were through, he closed his notebook, gave me his card and helped me gather up my things. "I've got a feeling those men aren't first-timers. Once I get back to the station I'll know better what we're dealing with and what charges we'll be filing."

"Sure, let me know. Can I go now?"

The whole shebang had taken less than two hours. I had been toasted, napped, assaulted, rescued and interrogated and the club still buzzed on. Other than my office crew, no one even seemed aware of what had almost happened out back. When I called it a night, the girls suggested moving the gathering to my place.

No thanks. The thought of being molly-coddled, while worried eyes watched for a meltdown made me itch. It took some arguing, but I was known for being a little stubborn and I wasn't going to budge.

"May I walk you out, Miss Silverbrook?" The detective's warm smile penetrated all the way to his eyes. "I'd feel better if I could at least see you safely to your vehicle."

"It's Mika, and yes, thank you. I'd appreciate that."

He accepted the tangle of gift bag handles and weighted balloon strings from my celebration and waited while I grabbed my purse and said my goodbyes. Placing a hand on the small of my back, he led me toward the door. Detective Delgato had an energy about him. As we walked along the front of the club I looked into the moonlit sky and listened to the Earth Spirits.

Yep. Impression confirmed. True-blue. I smiled and drew a deep breath.

As we rounded the corner of the club for the parking lot, my heart skipped. Bruin, or hunk-in-vest as I liked to think of him, leaned against the side wall, ankles and arms crossed. When our eyes met he winked.

"You waiting for someone in particular?" I asked.

He pushed off the wall and stalked closer. "Thought I'd ensure you got to your car without incident. There's a dangerous element out tonight. Can't be too careful."

Detective Delgato nodded. "I've been trying to convince her to go home with a friend. She seems to have stirred up a bit of a hail storm at work. It wouldn't be in her best interest to head straight into an empty home."

"I couldn't agree more, D." Bruin stared at me, his intentions obvious.

Awkward.

The detective chuckled and handed Bruin my bags. "Well then, I'll leave you in good hands to discuss your options, Miss Silverbrook. Bruin will see you home safely, whatever you decide. If you have any problems, don't hesitate to contact me, day or night."

"Thank you, Detective."

Bruin inclined his head and stepped next to me.

After a moment, the detective's nondescript burgundy sedan disappeared around the corner and I faced my white knight. "And you waited around out here on the off chance that saving my ass would translate into me falling into your bed?"

He flicked one of my balloons with his finger. His turquoise eyes flashed gold as they caught a beam of headlights and reflected the light. "I won't apologize for knowing what I want."

"And do you always get what you want?"

His arched brow disappeared under shaggy bangs and my pulse quickened. I listened hard to my environment, but couldn't get a read on him. Weird. I'd gotten more than just my physical traits from my Native ancestors. My grandfather's people had gifts . . . I tried again. Nothing. It seemed mine had currently abandoned me. "So, what is it you want tonight?"

He canted his head to the side as if considering. "Some company in my hotel suite, a little room service, maybe a dip in my jetted soaker tub. I've got a beautiful view of the mountains from my terrace. Play your cards right and I might even massage out those muscles that are going to start turning on you in the next few hours."

I closed my eyes. As insistent as I'd been telling Paige and the Detective that I just wanted to go home, I realize now that I didn't. I hated feeling rattled . . . but I was rattled. I shrugged. "How could a girl say no?"

He wrapped a strand of my hair behind my ear, his knuckle brushing the edge of my jaw. Where flesh met flesh, my skin tingled. "Oh, it's happened."

Yeah, right. No hot-blooded female would shut him down. "All right, you lead the way and I'll follow in my truck. What are you driving?" I scanned the parking lot for something that fit. The night crowd had thinned and, based on what was left between the rows, I'd lay money on one of the two cars in the back: the candy apple red, Shelby Mustang or the silver Audi R8 straddling the lines of two spots. Classic muscle or flashy sport?

"Actually, Kobi headed to the hotel with our rental. Mind driving both of us?"

"Um . . . ." For one split second panic rose in my chest. I wasn't a prude or anything. I'd had casual encounters before. But heading out with a total stranger after a night like tonight? He wasn't really a total stranger, though. He'd saved me from being raped and abducted and was friendly with the local law enforcement.

That meant he was safe, right?

He crossed his arms and waited for my answer. Safe? No. He was the farthest thing from safe I'd ever come across. But I didn't want to be alone tonight either. Somehow, the idea of sticking close to my buff protector seemed . . . comforting.

Stopping at the front of my truck I scrabbled at the bottom of my purse and pulled out my keys. He whistled through his teeth, his eyes gleaming with the perfect combination of shock and admiration for my black-on-black Humvee. "Your chariot awaits."


~ Chapter 3 ~

Bruin swung my door open and waited while I eased in and tossed my shit behind the seat. Striding around to the passenger side he had his door open and settled in one graceful motion. Most of my tension melted away once the metallic echo of the doors secured us inside. I ran my fingers down the eagle feather hanging from my rear-view mirror and inhaled the power of my truck.

"Nice ride, mystery lady. What's she got?"

I snorted, turned the key and let the throaty rumble of the engine fill the silence. "She? Please. He is nothing, but raw, unbridled testosterone with cojones the size of Texas. Although, his original 6.5 litre diesel has been slightly neutered to lessen his carbon footprint. Even still, we can go anywhere and crush anything that gets in our way. He's ex-military, armor-plated and don't even get me started on his torque."

Bruin's mouth dropped open and he laughed.

The cloud-laden sky gave up its burden as we pulled out, a misty spit gathering on my windshield. At the edge of the road I flipped on my wipers and waited for the swish and hum to clear my view. "So, where are we headed? And don't say some skeezy motel off the beaten path or I'll hit eject and call it a bad night all the way around."

He chuckled. "Do you know the Wedgewood Hotel? I don't consider it skeezy, but I'll leave it to you to decide."

"The Wedgewood?" God he was hard to figure out.

"Yeah, Kobi and I stay there when we're in town. You know it?"

Yes. I knew it. I drove past it every day on my way to work, but had never had the guts to go inside. "It's beautiful. Costs a fortune though, doesn't it?"

He shrugged, drumming his fingers on the front dash. "You don't seem to have a problem indulging for something you like."

True. "So how long are you in town?" I dialed up the wipers a notch and slowed to let the car in front of me turn.

Bruin hesitated and ran his fingers along the evening shadow darkening his jaw. "That's up in the air. I'm hiding out for a few days, maybe a week."

"Avoiding something?" The hair on my arms raised as the journalist in me started lining up the possibilities: a wife, the disgruntled husband of an indiscretion, a legal mess, a gang of criminals. . . . I eyed his clothes. He sure made a pair of tight jeans look good. Oh shit. "You're not a drug dealer or anything are you?"

He barked out a laugh, his deep, melodic voice filling the cab of the truck. "No. Nothing as sinister as that. One of my adoptive sisters, Jade, is getting married in a few weeks and our household is a little crazy. My other sister, Lexi, is her maid-of-honour and is planning the big event. She's gone completely off the rails."

"And you're hiding? A big, strong hero cowering from a little 'Say Yes to the Dress?'"

"Hell, yeah. Lexi is the biggest little vortex of chaos you could imagine. The entire household is tripping over itself to avoid her. Forget Bridezilla. Lexi is Bridesmaidzilla . . . then cross that with a spoiled princess and add in a whole lotta drill sergeant . . . and then arm her with knives."

He shrugged at my expression, his adorable smile lighting up his face. "I thought it best to pop in for my fittings and then get the hell outta Dodge."

"You live with your sisters?"

He nodded. "They're more than my adopted family, they are my best friends too."

"And is it just the three of you?"

"No. There's our brother, Julian, our father, and some others."

"Others? How big is your house?"

"It's not my house. It was a wedding present for Jade. We just moved in two months ago. It's big enough that we don't need to see anyone we don't want to, but small enough that they always find me when I'm avoiding them." He snickered, staring out the windshield, watching as the swish of the wipers cleared the glistening drops from his view. "They're damn good little trackers, those girls."

I stopped at a red light and glanced sideways at his beautiful profile. "Won't they need your help to get ready for the wedding?"

"No. They have Galan's family and the staff. They won't even notice I'm gone."

Somehow I doubt that. "And Galan is . . . ?"

"The groom."

When the light changed, I pulled forward and indicated my turn onto the parking ramp leading below the hotel. At the unmanned security gate, I lowered the clearance of my truck and rolled down my window. Bruin handed me his key card and I swiped the machine. The digital sign flashed, 'Welcome to the Wedgewood Hotel, Mr. Bruin. Enjoy your stay.'

After a moment, the gate arm hummed and then lifted, allowing our passage. The garage, a standard maze of concrete pillars and fluorescent lighting, boasted spots wider than public lots. The vehicles parked in them were a car collector's wish list: Jaguar, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus, even a Ferrari. Nothing you'd want to ding accidentally with a military tank of a truck.

"We're over beside the elevators." Bruin pointed ahead of us, to the right and I followed his direction. "The spot should be big enough for your behemoth."

I ignored his snicker and read the plaque on the wall right beside the black Mustang with the Enterprise rental sticker sitting in PH1401. "PH? As in Penthouse?"

"Yes? Why do you say it like that?"

I shook my head and pulled in. "No reason. Just getting my bearings."

Trying to unfrazzle my mind was more accurate. If memory served, these penthouse suites went for $1500 a night . . . each. And they had two . . . for an unknown amount of time. A brawny, god of a man, dressed in shabby-chic, saves my virtue, possibly my life and takes me back to his penthouse suite at the Wedgewood.

Where did this guy come from?

He was obviously accustomed to the finer things yet had no air of rich kid superiority or bad-boy-bachelor-with-something-to-prove. It didn't add up. I was missing something and my journalistic Spidey-senses were tingling like mad. With a turn of my wrist, the rumble of my engine silenced and I withdrew the key.

Bruin slipped out in a blur, opened my door and offered me a hand to step down.

"So is Bruin your first name or your last? The bartender and the waitress at Spankz called you Bruin, but the security gate has you down as Mr. Bruin."

He shrugged. "It's just Bruin."

I slung my purse over my shoulder as he led me to the elevators and swiped his key card. "Like Beyoncé or Usher or Prince . . . well, until he changed his name into that silly squiggle thing." His blank stare told me I'd lost him on that one. Obviously not an '80s fan. Maybe the one name was an adoption thing and he didn't like talking about it.

"Okay, just Bruin, so where are you from?"

He stepped tight behind me, his cheek brushing against my neck. The rasp of his jaw combined with the warmth of his breath on my throat sent a shiver through me. "Are we going to waste what's left of the evening playing twenty questions?"

The hiss of the elevator doors had my heart jumping. With a possessive tug, he pulled me inside and pivoted my hips so we stood face to face. "I can think of a dozen things I'd rather do. How about you?"

Reaching around me, he inserted his card and punched the italic PH14.

Of their own volition, my hands traveled up the ridges of corded muscle defining his ribcage. Wow, this guy had a body. My skin flushed and I told myself it had nothing to do with the heat coming off him, the deep timbre of his voice or the sudden hunger in his eyes. I moistened my lips. "I'm open to suggestions."

Bruin drew a deep breath and his nostrils flared. In the enclosed confines of the elevator, he didn't just occupy space . . . he saturated it. He was intensely masculine. He was sexual. And his mouth hovered just inches from mine.

I swallowed hard, my heart beating in my chest like a ceremonial buckskin drum. He fingered a piece of my hair down to where it hung against my damaged cheek. When I flinched, he stiffened and a muscle leapt in his jaw.

"Don't worry about it," I said raising my fingers to probe the damage. "I'm sure it looks worse than it is."

He laid a gentle kiss on the bruise then nuzzled his way down my neck. When his lips brushed my collarbone I swear he growled, low in his chest. The primal sound sent my hormones off the charts and I leaned back against the elevator wall for support.

He followed, a predator stalking forward to claim my mouth.

The wait was excruciating, the contact decadent. His lips moved over mine, and though I couldn't get a solid read on him with my gift, I felt the incredible strength he held in reserve. The edge. The power. He tethered something dangerous inside himself. Something fierce. My arms barely reached around his shoulders as he lifted me from the ground and pulled me against his chest. Would he ever use his strength against me like those bastards tonight?

A soft ding accompanied the hiss of the elevator doors. Without breaking our kiss, he grasped both cheeks of my ass and lifted me against his waist. I linked my ankles behind his thighs and we moved as one into the foyer of the fourteenth floor.

Bruin's tongue danced in my mouth as his arousal pressed hard against my belly.

As all my well-cultivated defenses fizzled, I couldn't help wondering what the night would bring. He tasted wild and smelled like the crisp outdoors mixed with Hugo Boss. He hesitated, chuckled into my mouth, and walked us back to the empty elevator. After reaching inside, he pulled his key card from the slot.

Satisfied it had completed its task, the elevator hissed closed and descended.

Bruin fumbled with the card slot outside his suite when the adjacent penthouse door opened. Without setting me down he withdrew from our kiss and inclined his head.

Kobi, stood in the other doorway wearing black Calvins, a dozen piercings and a hell of a lot of tawny tattooed skin. With his nipple ring catching the light and a black, banding tattoo encircling his left shoulder, he rocked the tall-Goth-and-sexy look. But something was off. Regardless of his physical appearance, the man had a haunted look in his dark charcoal eyes.

He gave our situation a once over and raised a bottle of whiskey to his lips. "Glad you're back. Now I can get down to it." He leaned back so we could see into his suite. “You remember the two blondes from the cage."

Oh, the kissy, thigh-high twins.

Bruin laughed. "I do, though I prefer my dance partners free-range."

A sinful smirk crept over Kobi’s face as he propped the door open a little wider and we could see a David Beckham look alike inside with the girls. “Tall, dark and sexy was free range. We added him in on the way to the car."

I wondered if the look Bruin flashed his buddy was admiration or disbelief. I hoped for the latter. "So, if you've got a full house what are you doing in the hall?"

"What can I say, I'm that fucking dedicated. Oh, and I like my balls right where they are, fuck-you-very-much. If anything happened to you—"

"Good night, Kobi." Bruin snapped. "We can chit-chat mañana."

Kobi gave us a middle finger salute over his shoulder and headed back inside his suite.

"Hey," Bruin called after him. "Keep the noise down tonight."

Kobi laughed and kicked the door shut behind him.

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