By Celia Kyle
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Cougar shifter Abby Carter always plays it safe. That’s why she’s an accountant–no excitement, no danger, and no cocky alpha males. She loves her quiet life, but fate has other plans. When Abby uncovers the shady dealings of an anti-shifter organization, she’ll have to trust the too-sexy-for-her-peace-of-mind werewolf Declan Reed…or end up six feet under.
Declan Reed is starting over. After two years with Shifter Operations Command, it’s time to put his past behind him. Now Declan is the only thing standing between the gorgeous Abby and an early grave, and if he’s going to have any chance of keeping her alive, he’ll have to embrace the darkness he’s fought to keep at bay. But first he has to convince Abby that there’s no safer place in the world than the arms of a big bad werewolf.
“Celia Kyle’s my go-to for sexy alpha shifters and fast-paced, delicious storylines.” — Jessica Clare. New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
A few minutes past eight and Declan Reed couldn’t take his eyes off the windows in the building across the street.
“You remember our shift ended two hours ago, right?” Cole drawled. The pain-in-the-ass tiger shifter was his partner for this operation. Eh, the dick was his partner in most operations. Declan ignored the man.
Their shift had ended at six, and the other men on Shifter Operations Command Team One, Ethan and Grant, had taken over, but Declan couldn’t force himself to leave. He couldn’t force his wolf to leave.
Not while she still occupied the building.
Abby Marie Carter. Twenty-eight years old and five feet eight inches of tempting cougar shifter. She had long golden hair with a hint of a curl at the ends, bright blue eyes, and curves that made his palms tingle with the need to stroke every one of them.
“Not that I’m against keeping my eyes on a nice ass,” Cole continued. “But since neither of us is getting in her panties, I don’t see the point.”
The tiger was a good ally in a tight spot and handy with a block of explosives. Declan would trust him at his back on any assignment. But having faith in the man didn’t mean his wolf was okay with Cole thinking about Abby or her panties.
“Fuck off, Cole.”
“We’ve been watching this place for four days and you’ve barely slept. Do you want to go through another psych evaluation? Because ‘obsessive behavior’”—Cole formed air quotes with his fingers—“is a sure-as-shit way to end up on the doc’s couch.”
“Do you feel like being thrown out a window?” Declan pulled his attention from the building across the street and leveled a glare on the tiger shifter. “Because ‘dickish behavior’”—he formed air quotes, mimicking Cole—“is a sure-as-shit way to end up hitting the pavement headfirst.”
“Play nice, kids.” A third voice joined their conversation—their team alpha—his order transmitted through the com device each member of the team wore in their ear. “Tighten up.”
Declan glowered at Cole and his partner did the same to him, but they kept their mouths shut. Birch was a hard-ass bear shifter, and when he spoke, they all did their damnedest to listen. Sometimes it happened. Sometimes it didn’t.
The men of SHOC Team One weren’t known for their respect for authority, and they sure as hell hadn’t been recruited because they played well with others.
“Aw, Birch. He started it…” Cole whined in his best impression of a five-year-old. Declan rolled his eyes, tuning out his partner’s voice while he refocused on Abby.
Technically, their target was FosCo, the multinational company headquartered across the street. Except from the moment Abby walked into FosCo’s lobby four days ago, he’d had a hard time tearing his attention from her. Staring at the cougar shifter was a lot more fun than watching the other staffers.
No one else popped in earbuds while they worked. They didn’t get up from their chairs to stretch and add a little shake of their ass. They definitely didn’t kick off their shoes and dance when the building emptied and no one was watching.
Abby did. She appeared professional when she walked into the office building every morning. Her blond hair was usually twisted in some girly knot that he wanted to run his claws through, and she wore a tight skirt suit with a pair of low heels. She fit right in with all the others in FosCo’s headquarters.
Even if she wasn’t a FosCo employee…or even human.
According to the file they’d compiled, she’d been employed by the accounting firm Ogilve, Piers, and Patterson for six years, landing the job straight out of college after earning her bachelor’s degree. She still worked toward her master’s as she studied for the CPA exam. Smart. Dedicated. A hard worker if her schedule was anything to go by. In at seven thirty every morning and out at nine thirty every night. In bed by eleven. His knowledge of her sleeping habits wasn’t something he shared with the others.
“Obsessive behavior” and all that shit.
The team still wasn’t sure what she was doing at FosCo, but Declan found he cared less and less about the reason as each hour passed. He just liked looking at her.
“Declan, you listening?” Cole’s deep growl pulled his attention from Abby again.
The asshole wanted to lose his tongue before Declan threw him out the window.
“What?” he snapped.
“Guys.” Cole groaned. “He’s already pussy whipped even though he’s never gonna get any.”
Declan would tell the man to fuck off—again—but he figured more was called for at this point. He didn’t let his attention stray as he reached to his left and wrapped his fingers around an unopened can of soda. His next action was a blur—a single fluid move—as he whipped it at Cole’s head.
Unfortunately, Cole’s reflexes rivaled Declan’s, and he snatched the can from the air. The tiger popped the top and guzzled the soda down in a couple swallows before crushing the container in one hand and tossing it over his shoulder.
“Thanks, man. I was thirsty.” Cole grinned, but there was something else in the tiger’s gaze. The man’s body language said he was at ease, but the flicker of yellow in Cole’s eyes revealed the feral beast just under the surface.
“Cole…” Birch growled over the com.
“I’d like the record to show that Cole is the one causing shit today.” Grant, the other werewolf on the team, broke in. “It ain’t me.”
The crunch of chips and the smack of Grant’s lips followed his words. The wolf was eating again. The man’s stomach was a bottomless pit. Grant claimed junk food kept his mind sharp, which was a necessity as the team’s tech operative.
“Or me.” Ethan, lion shifter and genius with transportation, spoke up as well. Then he popped his gum, which had Birch growling some more. Ethan had what the doc called an “oral fixation.” Declan knew better. Ethan just liked annoying Birch, and someone popping his gum while talking over the com pissed him off.
The alpha bear liked them to at least pretend to be professional like the goody-goody council Trackers, but that wasn’t SHOC Team One. Declan wasn’t sure why the bear shifter even bothered. Their backgrounds were varied, but they all shared a few traits—they were loners, reveled in pissing people off, and had a penchant for breaking the law.
All right, laws.
Violate enough of ’em and the council would send their Trackers after a shifter. Break those guys well enough and a shifter was given the choice between council punishment or “using their evil powers for good” with SHOC.
Declan’s team was the best of the bad.
“Can someone remind me when I get to shoot someone?” Declan broke into their bickering.
“Or blow something up?” Cole added hopefully.
Birch sighed, and Declan pictured the big bear shifter closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Does no one remember the mission objective?”
Declan grunted and repeated the words from memory. “Observe. Confirm rumors. Eliminate the threat.”
They were supposed to report in to SHOC headquarters, too, but in their tight group, they tended to get things done first and tell higher-ups about it later.
Right now Declan was ready to skip to the elimination step. After he got Abby out of there, of course. His wolf bristled at the idea of anything happening to the little she-cat.
“Get paid,” Ethan tacked on. “I’ve gotta pay for that new Porsche in the garage.”
“Exactly,” Birch reminded them. “Right now we’re still observing.”
Cole grunted. “Observing is boring as fuck.”
“We can’t go in there and shoot everything to shit until we can definitively tie FosCo to Unified Humanity,” Birch reminded them.
Unified Humanity was the oldest, largest anti-shifter organization in existence, bent on seeing shifters destroyed, even though the general population didn’t know of their kind. Declan couldn’t remember the whole story of its formation. It had something to do with a shifter wanting to mate a human woman back in the 1700s. Her transition had gone sideways, and when the dust had settled, she was dead and her family was out for blood. That one event was the catalyst for Unified Humanity’s existence and the destruction they constantly wrought on his people.
“We could sneak in there and pop off a few rounds…” Declan’s wolf yipped at the possibility. It’d been a while since they’d gotten to enjoy some large-scale destruction.
“No.” Birch’s voice was hard and deep, the bear’s presence pushing forward to make its wishes known. “Quit whining like a bunch of teenagers and—”
“Looks like our kitty is about to get up and shake her tail.” Grant sounded way too excited about Abby’s nightly office-dancing habits.
Declan pushed to his feet, giving his left ear a double tap to shut off the com and silence the chatter of his team. He didn’t want their voices filling his head. He was off duty.
“I’ll see you later,” he murmured to Cole, and ignored the tiger’s cackling laughter.
Declan strode from the room, steps silent on the worn hallway carpet. They’d set up in an empty building across from FosCo. It’d been repossessed by the bank and sat empty for months. He and Cole watched from the top floor while Grant and Ethan had settled in on the seventh. Ethan had a thing about the number seven. Declan had a thing about being on top.
This time of night he liked the roof—cool air, soft breeze, and a better view of Abby.
He pushed open the exit door at the end of the hall, tromped into the stairwell, and took the concrete steps two at a time until he reached door to the roof. He nudged the security door, broken panel swinging out, and trod onto the graveled surface. His boots crunched over the small rocks and debris, leaves and sticks dropped by birds snapping beneath his feet.
The night air rushed forward, the chilled breeze bathing him in the briny scent of the nearby ocean. He’d been locked up in that room for more than fourteen hours and it felt good to be outside.
And a little closer to Abby.
Declan followed the same path as he had the four nights prior, moving carefully over the flat roof to the brick railing. He threw one leg over the side, straddling the twelve-inch-wide concrete, and settled in to watch the one bit of brightness in his life.
She kicked off her shoes, black pumps tumbling across the worn carpet and into the darkness beneath the desk. Then she pushed to her feet and nudged the office chair away. Her hair was next—she tugged on whatever held that uptight knot in place. Golden strands tumbled down her back, a little bounce now that they were freed. She shrugged, and her midnight jacket slipped down her arms to reveal the pale, snug blouse underneath.
All those curves…
Curves he dreamed about when he managed to convince himself he wasn’t a violent piece of shit who didn’t deserve to even think about her.
Abby’s cougar tolerated being stationary during working hours—cats were nocturnal creatures, after all. At night her cat was ready to play, hunt, chase…basically, anything but sit on her ass and stare at numbers.
Which was why she had her evening playlist that included “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature as well as “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. She popped in her Bluetooth earbuds and snatched her smartphone. A few button presses and the opening beats of one of her favorite songs filled her ears.
Then came a shake of her hips, a little jiggle, jiggle, jiggle of her ass, and she belted out the opening lines of “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls. She sang about friends, a lover, and zigazig ah…There were also a couple lines about lovers and giving, and she decided she’d like to have someone giving her something…
Something naughty and dirty and—and Abby’s cat swatted at her, the inner animal hissing long and loud. Her cat didn’t want Abby’s mind to stray to sex if she refused to do anything about their dry spell. The feline knew her human half wouldn’t leave work for at least another hour.
The cougar didn’t project any other thoughts or emotions. She merely rose to her feet, presented her back to Abby, and then plopped back down on her ass. Natural house cats knew how to ignore their owners, but those kitties had nothing on a shifter’s inner animal.
Abby ignored the animal and shook her ass a little more. Shake, shake, wiggle, wiggle, jiggle, jiggle…She even did a little “raising the roof,” followed by a spin just before she stumbled and finally collapsed in the nearby office chair.
“Whew.” She panted out a quick breath and then another before drawing air deep into her lungs and releasing it slowly. She slumped in her seat and nudged the ground, pushing and jerking until she was back in place in front of her laptop.
“It’s Friday. You just have to make it through tonight,” she murmured to her cougar, and it replied with a low grumble. “I’ll let you play a little on Palm Island this weekend and then Monday it’s back to regular hours at O.P.P.”
Not to be confused with one of her favorite songs. This O.P.P. referred to the accounting firm—and her employer—Ogilve, Piers, and Patterson.
The cougar huffed, still a hint annoyed, but Abby also sensed the little flick of the cat’s tail and the tremor of excitement that flowed through her furred body. The small island just off the coast of Port St. James, South Carolina, was a nature preserve—no humans allowed and nothing but natural animals running wild. Abby’s cougar could safely stretch her legs, take a swim, and chase the island residents.
She leaned forward in the chair and grasped the edge of the desk, pulling herself back into place in front of her laptop. She popped out her earbuds, tossed them into the bottomless pit of her purse, and turned off her music, ready to focus on her job once more.
A job she loved…most of the time. While her cat reveled in the hunt for live prey, Abby’s human half enjoyed the puzzles that came with accounting. She checked and cross-checked transactions, hunted for unbalanced entries, and scoured records for improperly supported payments.
Accounting was Abby’s kung fu, and it was strong.
The cougar snorted at her butchered movie quote.
Brushing off the cougar’s flare of anger, she snatched her pencil and the stacks of printouts she’d gathered, diving back into her audit. Her—not their—audit. A company the size of FosCo needed a double-digit team, not one woman, but apparently a surface audit was enough to appease the private shareholders. It wasn’t her place to ask. It was her place to work and get paid. Abby ran her finger down the nearest page, comparing it to the spreadsheet displayed on her monitor.
That’s there. And that’s there. And that’s…
She stopped and stared at the printout—a copy of a recent bank statement—and swallowed hard while she replayed conversations she’d had with the FosCo president recently.
“It’s nothing but a small account we haven’t taken the time to close,” Eric Foster had said. “Don’t even bother with it. It’s nothing.”
Abby gulped and kept her eyes on the account’s activity.
In Abby’s world, two plus two equaled four. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing…there were rules in numbers. As an accountant, she lived and died by them. Mainly because if she didn’t do her job right, she didn’t get paid, which meant she couldn’t eat. It was amazing how things strung together like that.
Two plus two did not equal five hundred million dollars.
Five. Hundred. Million. Dollars.
She stared at the screen, the digits swimming before her eyes.
It would have been fine if she’d found any type of notation in the client’s files, but there was nothing. When money shuffled through accounts with nary a mention anywhere…
This was bad. So very, very bad. So many bads in so many languages, and it made her wish she’d taken a few foreign language classes in high school just so she could use them now.
Abby’s fingers flew over the laptop’s keyboard, entering the password that granted her access to her accounting firm’s server. She navigated the file structure with ease, digging deeper into the electronic system. After each audit, every piece of paper the staff scribbled on was scanned and uploaded. Ten years from now the partners at Ogilve, Piers, and Patterson did not want to have to question an employee and hear the words “I wrote it on this yellow sticky…”
Apparently, yes, that’d happened. Coincidentally, it’d been Abby’s predecessor, who was now retired and sunning herself in lovely South Florida. But the moral of the story was…
“Martha, where the hell did you save your notes?” Abby murmured, hunting through folder after folder until, “Bingo.” She’d found Martha’s chicken-scratch scrawl—on a scanned yellow sticky, of course—listing every password the president of FosCo used, both personal and professional. The money had to be sitting somewhere, right? “You are a goddess among women, lady.”
It didn’t take long to bring up Gold Key Bank’s website and even less time to log in and find…
Her missing five hundred million dollars. And then some.
She also saw where other large amounts came in and went out to…She clicked on the details for one of the most recent wire transfers—the name of the destination account holder was required when performing wires—and discovered…
She read the words. Then read them again. She skimmed them a third time and still couldn’t wrap her mind around what she saw.
The cougar did, though. At least enough to push its way forward and fight for control.
Goose bumps rose along Abby’s arms, and her cheeks stung while her fingertips throbbed with pain. To a casual observer she was immobile, but her inner cougar was going batshit. It paced in her mind and snarled, urging her to get the hell out of the high-rise office building.
The beast recognized something was wrong and they needed to go. Now. They needed to flee before they became prey.
Which was a possibility considering the information displayed on the screen.
The shifter world had their suspicions about FosCo. When conversations surrounding that organization came up, there were also murmurings about where that organization got their funding.
FosCo was one of the names bandied about—a supporter of that organization.
She shook her head and scrambled to find some sense of calm. This wasn’t a kid’s book about wizards, and that organization wouldn’t suddenly appear if she thought of its name.
Eric Foster, holder of the controlling interest in FosCo, was funding Unified Humanity, the organization that had a hate-boner for all shifters. Abby was the first to admit that everyone could rock on with their own inner ball of loathing—Abby wasn’t a huge fan of the president of her homeowners’ association, after all—but Unified Humanity was bad.
No, bad didn’t quite cover UH’s actions. They killed pups and cubs without hesitation, entire families gone with a single bomb. Death and destruction to shifters were their modus operandi. And when the smoke cleared, shifters couldn’t exactly call on human authorities, or the rest of the world would know about their existence. Their secret would be out.
Abby’s breath rushed in and out of her lungs, her heart racing and threatening to burst from her chest. The cougar yowled and scratched, demanding she run.
The cat didn’t want to hear anything about “but” or “first they should” or “it would be a good idea to…”
It. Wanted. To. Run.
Abby assured the cat they would absolutely race from the building, but first…She shoved at the cougar, pushed it to the back of her mind and built a mental wall between her and the beast. The feline would break through at some point and overpower her human half, but the barrier would delay the animal’s possession.
Delay it enough to give her time to dig deeper, find more, and make copies of everything she unearthed.
Unified Humanity had destroyed her life twenty years ago. Now she’d take every snippet of data she could so the shifter council could destroy them.
Something was wrong with Abby. Declan felt that certainty down to the center of his black heart. Still sitting on the brick railing, he kept his gaze focused on her. He skimmed her body with his eyes, noting the tension she now carried and her rapid-fire typing. She’d been a diligent worker from the moment she entered FosCo, but this was…different.
Methodical yet hurried.
Her pencil skated over pages, fingers dancing over the keyboard faster than Grant when he’d decided to try to hack the FBI. Her stare intent on the computer screen, she continued typing with her left hand, reached for her laptop bag with her right, and withdrew a cord. Abby diverted her attention just long enough to plug the computer into her nearby tablet.
Declan narrowed his eyes and let his wolf pull forward to assist his vision. The details of Abby’s features—body—came into focus with the animal’s help. The sharper vision allowed him to see the determined expression on her face and the panic lurking in her eyes.
Further proof something had gone sideways in her world. Whether it was personal or professional, he wasn’t sure. He simply knew that his wolf demanded he go to her. The beast didn’t know how to calm a woman or soothe her, but the asshole wanted to do something for her. Yes, the wolf reveled in the fear of others, enjoyed the scent of panic from their prey, but it hated this. Whatever had caused Abby’s terror needed to die. Now.
A soft tone filled Declan’s ear, his com reactivating—probably at Birch’s order. The rest of the men had to see the change in Abby, too. That was the only reason the assholes would turn the device on after he’d gone off duty.
“Guys,” he murmured to the team before anyone else could speak. His wolf’s howl consumed his mind. “There’s—”
Grant didn’t let him finish. He released a harsh cough and cleared his throat. “Uh, remember how I didn’t have approval to bug any FosCo offices and/or vehicles because we didn’t want to risk the devices being found?” Grant chuckled. “And then remember how I did it anyway?”
“Grant…” Birch’s growl rolled through the com, the rumble accompanied by the bear’s heavy stomps and a hollow echo.
The team alpha was in the stairwell. Coming up to Declan or down to kick Grant’s ass?
“Yo, Birch, it’d save you a lot of frustration if you didn’t issue orders you know he’s gonna break. You stopped telling me I couldn’t bring experimental, untested explosives on ops. You’re a lot happier now, am I right?” Declan could imagine the feral smile Cole wore.
“The point is…” Grant added his own snarl to the mix. “There’s movement. Eric Foster leaves the office every day at five—”
“In his slow-ass SUV,” Ethan muttered. “More money than God and he drives a vehicle fresh off the assembly line with no modifications.”
“—goes home and stays there.” Grant continued talking as if Ethan hadn’t interrupted. “Except right now he’s in his SUV with four other men and they’re headed back to the office.”
Declan didn’t like the sound of that. “Can you hear what they’re—”
“Hold.” The other wolf’s voice snapped through the com, and they all fell silent. Tension vibrated in the air, the change in pattern putting them all on edge.
Declan’s wolf leaped forward. His skin stretched and stung, the beast aching to push through.
Abby’s tension…Eric’s return…
The wolf wanted her out of there. Now. He tried to remind the bastard about their mission, but it just told him to fuck off. Something was
- "Nonstop action, lots of explicit sex, and smart banter add snap to this rough-and-tumble adventure that nicely launches this series."—Library Journal
- "I had a blast reading this, it was so freaking fun! A lighter paranormal romance with really likable characters. It was fast paced, kept me on my toes, and left me excited for the next book.... This was just super entertaining to read and left me with a smile on my face. "—About That Story
- "This book was amazingly written and had the best characters interaction and dialogue I have read in a long time."—Novel Reads
- "Really good world building. ...This stands out for me as one of the better ones (shifter books) and I will definitely be on board for reading the next in the series."—Rabid Reads
- "I couldn't stop reading this story. ...This book knocked me off my feet!"—Shelly's Book Corner
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 2017
- Page Count
- 320 pages