Authors: Tina Folsom
Stealth Guardians #2
After a painful betrayal in his past, Immortal Stealth Guardian Hamish MacGregor vows to never get involved with another human. But when he is charged with protecting Councilwoman Tessa Wallace from the Demons of Fear, his powerful desire for her soon makes this routine assignment the greatest challenge he’s ever faced.
Caught between mortal danger and immortal passion, Tessa and Hamish must work together to defeat their enemies and bring peace back to a city in turmoil... and they discover that falling in love can be the most dangerous adventure of all.
ALSO BY TINA
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Master Unchained (Stealth Guardians #2)
Copyright © 2016 by Tina Folsom
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Councilwoman Tessa Wallace
was typewritten on the plain white envelope. No address. No stamp. But when she opened it and read the note inside, Tessa began to tremble. Her breath caught in her throat, and her heartbeat accelerated. Cold sweat began to build on her nape.
Get out while you still can. You don’t want to end up like the last mayor, do you?
The note wasn’t signed. But the threat was clear. Somebody didn’t like the fact that she was running for the highest office in the city of Baltimore—an office that had become vacant after the previous mayor, John Yardley, had died two months earlier.
For a moment, she closed her eyes, allowing a shaky sigh to escape. She’d always known that politics was a dirty and dangerous game. But this went too far. The only reason she’d thrown her hat into the ring after the mayor’s untimely death was because she believed that the acting mayor, Robert Gunn, wasn’t the right man for the job. His incendiary rhetoric only aggravated the civil unrest that currently raged in the city. What this city needed was a peacemaker, not an ambitious politician who had no qualms about issuing executive orders that curbed the rights of minorities. He even went so far as to encourage police brutality against African Americans and Latinos, while white thugs got a free pass. Reports of racially motivated false arrests and illegal seizure of property were piling up, and Gunn didn’t see anything wrong with it.
But despite the fact that Gunn was a terrible choice for mayor, she didn’t think he’d do something as reckless as threaten her. On the other hand, she wouldn’t put it past his many supporters to try and scare her off, thus allowing him to run for mayor unopposed.
A brief knock at the door startled her more than it should have. Before she could answer, the door was ripped open, and Poppy Connor, her campaign manager, charged in. A woman gifted with more energy than an Energizer bunny, the chubby redhead held up a sheet of paper and grinned triumphantly.
“Hot off the press! The latest poll numbers.”
Poppy nearly tripped over her own feet on the way to the desk, where she placed the sheet in front of Tessa.
Automatically Tessa glanced at it, but she didn’t get a chance to read the numbers, before Poppy announced, “You’re up by five points. This calls for a celebratory drink.” Excitement spilled from her voice and colored her face. As if Poppy needed a reason to drink. She’d always been a party girl.
Tessa forced a smile. “That’s still within the margin of error.”
Poppy clicked her tongue. “That’s not what you said when Gunn was five points ahead of
two weeks ago.” She pointed at the sheet again. “I mean, look at it! That’s a huge swing in only two weeks. I think our approach is working. You’re appealing to the people. They see something in you.”
Tessa shrugged, unable to enjoy the good news, the effect of the threatening note still lingering. “Yeah, I guess.”
Her campaign manager cast her a questioning look. “You guess? What’s wrong? I thought you’d be jumping up and down at that news. Isn’t this what you want? Don’t you want to win?”
Tessa lifted her eyes. “I do. The people of Baltimore deserve better than Gunn. But…”
“But what? Don’t tell me you haven’t got the stomach for this. I know people have been attacking you for your youth and inexperience, but you can’t let that get to you.”
“I’m not.” She hesitated, wondering whether to tell Poppy about the note. She took a few breaths. Maybe it was best to just ignore it. So somebody didn’t want her to be mayor. Not exactly a surprise.
Tessa pasted a smile on her face. “I’m just a little exhausted.” She picked up the piece of paper and studied the poll numbers more closely. “These numbers look really good.”
Poppy leaned closer and looked over her shoulder. “And look at the Hispanic and African American voters.”
“I’m way ahead with them.”
“You’re killing it in that demographic!” Poppy confirmed.
“But we have to get the unions on our side. Have you arranged the talk at the—”
“What’s that?” Poppy’s hand shot past Tessa’s shoulder, pointing to the note lying exposed on the desk, now that Tessa had moved the poll sheet.
“That’s nothing.” Tessa made an attempt to snatch it before Poppy could take it. Too late.
Poppy stepped away, perusing the note, then holding it up. “Nothing? That’s a death threat! Jesus Christ, Tessa, when did you get this?”
“It was on my desk when I got back from the council meeting. It’s probably just some wacko nutbag.” She took the note from Poppy’s hand. “I’m not taking it seriously.” Even though the threatening words had given her a fright at first, she wasn’t going to admit that to Poppy. The less she made of it the better. “If I took every stupid threat seriously, I wouldn’t get any work done.”
Poppy stilled. “What are you saying?”
“I just told you: I’m not taking it seriously.”
Poppy shook her head and gripped Tessa’s shoulders, almost pulling her out of her chair. “Look at me.” She brought her face closer. “Are you implying that this is not the first threat you’ve gotten?”
Tessa’s breath hitched. She’d never been very good at hiding things—or at lying. Maybe she shouldn’t have become a politician. Her father had told her all along that she was too honest for this profession. Too good, whatever that meant.
Poppy’s eyes widened. “Oh my God! You’ve gotten other threats like this, haven’t you?”
“I wouldn’t call them threats,” Tessa said, attempting to diffuse Poppy’s concern.
“What would you call them then?”
Tessa shrugged. She had no answer. Instead, she pulled the top drawer of her desk open. Inside were several other notes, all possibly from the same sender, though before today, the messages had been more suggestion than threat.
Poppy pulled a few notes out of the drawer. “Oh crap, Tessa!”
Tessa watched silently as Poppy skimmed the notes.
“When did you get the first one?”
“A couple of weeks after I announced my candidacy for mayor.”
Poppy pointed to the remainder of the notes. “I’ll take these.”
“What are you gonna do with them?”
“Show them to somebody who can help you.”
Tessa jumped up. “I can help myself!”
Poppy braced her hands on her hips. “No, you can’t. Not when it comes to something as serious as this. You need a professional.”
“Yes, somebody who can protect you, because as your campaign manager, I’m not only responsible for getting you votes, I’m also responsible for your safety.” She pointed to the note from today. “I’m not going to stand idly by while somebody clearly wants you dead. I’d be a piss-poor excuse for a friend if I did.”
“You can’t just go over my head about this!” Tessa protested. “I’m not in danger. This is just some disgruntled voter who’d rather have Gunn as mayor.”
“How many disgruntled voters do you know who issue death threats?” Poppy gave her a stern look. “You’re getting protection, and that’s that.”
By now, Tessa was fuming. She jumped up. “If you do that, I’ll fire you!”
“Do what you have to, but if you don’t accept protection, I’m going to show these to your father. We’ll see what he has to say about it.”
Tessa’s chin dropped. If her father thought she was in danger, he would personally march down to City Hall and put her in protective custody. He’d always looked out for her, though even he hadn’t been able to protect her all the time. He’d failed her once, and it had made him even more overprotective. She had no intention of worrying him over something like this. He had enough on his plate. “You wouldn’t!”
“Oh, I would, in a heartbeat!” Poppy crossed her arms over her chest. “Your choice.”
Tessa pressed her lips together, knowing she’d lost this round. “I should have never hired you. Friendship and business clearly don’t mix.”
Poppy smiled sweetly. “Honey, hiring me was the best thing you ever did.”
Hamish stepped out of the portal that had brought him from his own compound to one located thousands of miles away. The journey had taken only seconds. It was the Stealth Guardians’ primary mode of transportation and enabled them to act quickly in times of crisis. It was also, however, their Achilles’ heel: should a demon ever enter one of their portals, he would be able to access any of their race’s strongholds and destroy them from within.
Cinead, a member of the Council of Nine, their ruling body, was already waiting for him.
“You came quickly,” the elder statesman said in his thick Scottish accent.
“You made it sound urgent.”
“It is.” He motioned to the hallway. “Walk with me.”
As they walked through the maze of corridors, Hamish glanced at the man who’d always been a mentor to him. Dressed in dark slacks and a light Polo shirt, he made a striking figure. In his younger years, Cinead had been a fearless warrior, before deciding to devote his life to guiding his race as a member of the Council of Nine. Today, though, he looked tired and solemn.
“What’s on your mind?” Hamish felt compelled to ask.
Cinead smiled, but it was forced. “Many things.” He pointed to a door and walked through it, disappearing right in front of Hamish’s eyes.
Hamish followed, allowing his body to disintegrate so it could pass through the solid wood and reassemble behind it, an ability singular to his race.
He’d entered a large library with a comfortable seating area and books stacked on shelves as far as the eye could see. Cinead walked to the fireplace, touching the frame of a small picture. Hamish had seen the painting many times: a baby boy stretched out on a bearskin. The dark-haired boy lay on his stomach, stark-naked, a small birthmark the shape of an axe gracing one butt cheek.
“He would be the same age as you, had he lived,” Cinead said into the silence. An eerie echo accompanied his words, as if the ghosts of the dead were whispering back.
Hamish swallowed hard, suddenly realizing the significance of today’s date. “How long has it been?”
“Two-hundred years to the day,” Cinead said, turning toward him, “since the demons killed him. He was just a wee bairn, still in diapers.” He walked to the couch and sat down, motioning Hamish to do the same.
“I guess I’m getting sentimental in my old age.”
Not that Cinead looked old; their race didn’t age fast. Even at close to five-hundred years, Cinead didn’t look older than a man in his late forties. His eyes, however, reflected the wisdom and experience of his long life and the pain and hardship he’d lived through.
“Is that why you wanted to see me? To reminisce?” If it were so, he wouldn’t blame him. Cinead had been like a second father to him after Angus, Cinead’s only child, had been killed by the Demons of Fear, their mortal enemies.