Authors: Terry Bolryder
© 2015 by Terry Bolryder
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover Design by Melody Simmons of eBookindiecovers
he car lurched slightly
as it passed over a bump in the road at eighty miles an hour, and Kel could hear the clink of metal from the guns pointed at him.
Though he couldn’t see the men staring at him in the back of the unmarked black SUV that had come to pick him up, he could scent them, feel them, detect their body temperatures and their movements inside the vehicle as it sped toward their unknown destination.
Even blindfolded as he was, Kel was still in control of the situation.
He made it his business to be.
The car turned and started to slow. Probably an off-ramp. Though Kel didn’t know exactly where they were, he’d memorized every turn they’d made and the approximate distances they’d gone along each leg of the drive as the car wound around the city, probably trying to throw him off track. But if he had to, he could retrace his steps.
It was something a good tiger always did.
The man on his left coughed slightly, then said they were almost there. Kel just waited.
Every now and then, a prospective client would contact him, and they would insist to meet him in person. A reasonable enough request. But for some reason, some clients tended to want to do things their way. Hence, the blindfold, unmarked car, armed guards, and absurd amount of secrecy. Which Kel understood, being a person who very much liked to keep his own secrets, too. He just wished someone would finally figure out they could cut the crap.
No matter how good your reputation as a bodyguard got, someone still thought you were playing ball for the other team and wouldn’t trust you if their life depended on it.
Which in the case of Kel’s clients, their life
depend on it. So they learned very quickly to trust him or regret they hadn’t.
The vehicle stopped and someone finally pulled off the blindfold. Kel’s eyes quickly adjusted to the light as he was prodded out of the car like cattle.
Kel was greeted by the sight of an unfashionably large mansion before him, surrounded by an estate that either meant this person came from old money or dirty money.
The front drive was laid out in a large horseshoe-shaped pattern in front of the house, which was lined with towering marbled columns and a long staircase that led up to impressive mahogany front doors. He followed the group of men that had initially picked him up after a thirty-second phone call requesting his expertise on a particularly important job. A minute after he’d said yes, they were there, guns pointed and blindfold at the ready.
As they went inside, Kel couldn’t help but notice the array of engraved woodwork, sparkling floors, and mural-painted ceilings that composed the place. He took stock of how large the place was, with its corridors that stretched out perpendicular to them and seemed to go on forever and the staircases they passed that wound upward indefinitely.
Well, one thing was for sure. Payday was going to be exciting.
Assuming he took the job of course.
Finally, after making a single turn down a corridor, they found their way into a sizable study with a gigantic bookshelf for a wall and outfitted with all the accoutrements of someone who was either an explorer from the sixteenth century or a man trying all too hard.
And there, seated in a large chair at a cherry-wood executive desk, was the man himself.
As a few of the guards left the room to stand outside and those remaining took their places posted at the door, the first thing Kel noticed was this man was a pureblood wolf shifter. An alpha male, though not the scent of any clan he knew personally. The man grinned at Kel from behind a well-trimmed beard, and he stood with arms outstretched in greeting, revealing a tall, muscular body typical of most alphas, though it was clear he’d put on a few extra pounds.
But alpha or not, Kel made everything around him seem small anyway.
“Welcome to my humble abode. Please, forgive the greeting party. I have to be very careful who a let into my home these days,” he said, as he came around the desk and offered a hand.
Kel shook it quickly and firmly, noting the man’s bulky, calloused hands, indicative of a life of hard labor, not silver spoons.
Whether that labor had been illegal or not was yet to be determined. But it wasn’t any of Kel’s business regardless.
That was why he got paid the big bucks.
“Please, have a seat,” the man said cordially, motioning to a chair. Kel shook his head once. Talking about business over drinks wasn’t his thing. He wanted to hear what was being offered and either accept or reject it.
“I see. Straight to the point. Your reputation precedes you,” the man said with a smile. “I’ll skip the introductions, then, and get straight to the important part.” He leaned back on the edge of his desk and crossed his arms, appraising Kel with a single arched brow. “They say you’re the best in the business. Is this true?”
Kel just nodded once in reply. He knew he was. This wasn’t some sort of job interview where he had to make a point.
“Good. My family has need of your services. However, I can’t give you any details until you’ve accepted our offer.
“And what’s being offered?” Kel asked.
A man came from behind Kel and handed him a slip of paper, which Kel opened and glanced at before handing it back to the suited man.
It was a lot. And he’d seen some pretty big sums up until now, despite his age.
“I’m interested. What kind of work are you talking?” Kel probed. Aside from being a bodyguard, he’d done some jobs tracking down lost persons or things of that nature. But he never accepted a job as an assassin. Murder-for-hire wasn’t his thing.
He didn’t kill anyone unless they had it coming.
“Just keeping someone very dear to me safe. That’s all,” he said reassuringly, catching Kel’s drift.
Kel thought about it for a moment but already knew his answer. The pay was right, and it was sure going to be a lot easier simply taking the job than it would be fighting his way out of this maze.
Time to get to work.
“I’ll do it.”
A wide smile spread across the man’s face, and his grey-blue eyes lit up. “Splendid, that’s wonderful to hear. Send for Ralston. Have him bring in Sofia,” he said, gesturing to one of the men behind Kel.
A surprisingly short time later, Kel heard footsteps approaching and stood to the side just as a small group of suited, armed men came into the room with a woman and another man that was perhaps fifty or sixty years old.
Kel couldn’t help but notice the woman was gorgeous. She was average height but had the most beautiful, soft curves he’d ever seen. She was wearing a simple evening dress in red that accentuated her luscious hips and revealed sumptuous cleavage that he had to consciously look away from to avoid staring. Her shoulder length-hair dark-brown hair, curled in pretty ringlets, and dark, warm skin were a striking contrast to her honey-colored eyes.
And there was something else different about her, too.
She was a cat shifter. Kel could scent it.
The baffling thing was he didn’t know what kind of cat she was. In all his years doing this, he’d come across all kinds, either working for them or protecting his clients from them. But her scent was entirely unique. Like an exotic flower he didn’t know the name of, mixed with the smell of rainfall and forest. It was intoxicating in its own way and only further sparked Kel’s curiosity.
As she stood before him, a few feet from his now-employer, she pegged him with a thoughtful, curious gaze with those piercing eyes that sparked something in his core. He quickly turned back to the suited man.
“Kel, I’d like you to meet my goddaughter, Sofia. Sofia, say hello to our guest,” the man said, motioning between them.
Sofia looked up at Kel for a moment, then stared at the ground and nodded timidly. He guessed she was probably in her early or mid-twenties, but it was hard to say.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” she said softly, so quiet Kel wasn’t sure she’d even spoken, if not for the movement of her full red lips.
“Likewise,” Kel responded, noting how nervous she seemed to be.
“Wonderful. Sofia, this man will be helping us out for the next little while, so please be on your best behavior. He’s a tiger shifter, the best money can buy, so be grateful,” her godfather said, as if addressing someone much younger. “Please see her to her room and leave us for a moment,” he added, addressing the men at the back of the room.
The guards surrounded Sofia again in a protective formation and began walking out of the room. Just as she passed Kel, she looked up at him with that same sharp intelligence she had earlier, giving him the distinct feeling she was much more than an overprotected, wilting flower of a woman.
The remaining guards filed out and closed the door behind them, and Kel couldn’t help wondering what all the fuss was about. You’d think they were transporting the crown jewels or something.
Now it was just the three of them. Ralston, Kel, and his still-unnamed employer.
“Again, please forgive the heightened security. I’ve had to triple my normal bodyguard count the past few weeks. Ralston here is my right hand and the only one I can really trust.”
At that, Ralston gave a subservient smile. Kel could tell he was a wolf shifter, too, though it was clear that more than just age wore on him.
His employer looked around, then began pacing in a line in front of his desk. “A few weeks ago, my men located Sofia and brought her back from overseas. You see, her parents and I were good friends growing up, but years ago, they were hunted down by enemies of the family, and their daughter disappeared completely. For half a decade, my men and I have searched, hoping to find her alive and well. With perseverance and a little luck, we found her, and I have made it my first priority to see to her protection.”
“So why do you need me?” Kel asked, hoping to get to the part where his involvement was required.
“My informants have given me reason to believe the shifters who killed her parents know she is here, and they will stop at nothing until they steal her away from me. I cannot let that happen to her,” he said, pounding a fist on the desk resolutely.
“As I’m sure you must have noticed, she isn’t just any normal cat shifter. Even to a tiger as rare and experienced as yourself, her scent is unfamiliar, is it not?” Ralston asked, his voice calm and soothing.
Kel nodded in agreement.
“That is why I must get her out of here. If my sources are right, there might be traitors in my very midst, waiting for the right opportunity to strike,” his employer said, punctuating his words with a shaking fist, then turning to look at Kel. “I have arranged for you to take her far away from here, to a location that only the three of us know about. You are to keep her there, safe and unharmed, until we send for you. In the meantime, Ralston and I will be looking further into this matter and working on securing a safe home for her long term.”
Ralston stepped forward. “The details of the location and everything else you will need are in this folio. Once you’ve read it, you are to destroy it completely and dispose of any physical evidence of this knowledge to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands,” he said, producing a simple yellow envelope and handing it to Kel.
“Please, friend,” his employer said, running a hand through his graying hair, “you’re the only one I can trust to do this. I owe my life to her parents, and it is my greatest responsibility to see to their daughter’s safety, for their sakes.”
“When do I leave?” Kel asked, ready to be on the job again.
“Tomorrow, before sunup. Ralston will show you to a room that you can stay in for the night. If you need anything, just ask any of my servants and they’ll get it for you,” the man replied.
Ralston nodded and went to the door, opening it and holding it for Kel. Kel turned to follow, when his employer, who had taken his seat behind the desk once again, spoke up.
“Oh, and one more thing. I assume I don’t need to be specific when it comes to your being… How should I say it?
around my daughter, correct?”
Kel just nodded. When he was on the job, he was on the job.
But as they walked into the hall, leaving his mysterious employer alone in the study, for some reason his instincts told him this mission wasn’t going to be as simple as everyone seemed to imply.