Authors: Jessie Donovan
Tags: #FICTION / ROMANCE / PARANORMAL
While she had intended to wait for questions, she couldn’t help but ask, “Why is this hallway nothing but a hallway? Isn’t Clan DarkStalker supposed to live in a series of caverns and rooms inside one of the Cascade Mountains?”
He grunted. “I thought we agreed no questions.”
She lowered her voice for a dramatic whisper. “I somehow doubt asking about a hallway is a matter of clan secrecy. Unless this leads to a high security prison, where you stash all of your human captives. Maybe that’s where all the missing hikers are staying.”
Aidan sighed and glanced down at her. “No, we don’t imprison hikers. It’s much more fun to scare them away with a cougar howl.”
“Then explain about the hallway and why you made me wear a mask before if this is all there was to see.”
He stared at her a second before replying, “This is the safe hallway we use for visitors. It protects said visitors from accessing our most vulnerable. Until you agreed to Kian’s plan, we didn’t want you to see anything of our land, apart from the conference room.”
“So I was considered a threat?”
“Every stranger is considered a threat.”
Considering the long, bloody history between not only shifters and humans, but also among shifter clans, she couldn’t blame the precaution. “I hope I’m not constantly going to be viewed as a threat for the entire month I’m here. Otherwise, no one will listen to anything I say. They’ll think I’m lying.”
“Most of the clan knows you by name, if not face. You’re well-known among the shifter clans of Washington State for your work with the Shifter Equality Alliance.”
She blinked. “I am?”
“Yes.” He waved up ahead. “We’re about to turn into the soldiers’ living area, so I need you to remain silent until we enter your apartment.”
Claire was used to being in charge, but she had learned a long time ago to pick her battles. This one wasn’t worth it.
As they approached a door, Aidan typed in a code into a security panel. The lock clicked, and he guided her through.
The instant they turned a corner, the atmosphere changed.
Warm lights lined the walls, in between doors painted in different colors. A few even had decorations or signs on them. One door they passed had a sign which said, “Beware: Guard Cat Inside.” Claire smiled. That particular soldier or family clearly had a sense of humor.
One of the doors opened, revealing a dark-skinned woman wearing a loose sweater top and jeans. Claire had seen her picture before. It was Lauren Spencer, the human who had disappeared four months ago to live with the shifters.
When Lauren met her eyes, her smile was warm. “Is this her?”
Aidan stopped in front of the woman and Claire followed suit. “Yes, this is Claire. However, we don’t have time to talk. You can visit her later.”
Lauren shook her head. “Oh, Aidan, you don’t have to be so serious.” Lauren’s brown eyes met hers. “I’m Lauren. Kian probably told you about me, and if you ever need another human to talk with, I live here with my mate.”
Claire couldn’t help but smile back at Lauren. “You’re mated to a soldier?”
Lauren grinned. “No, although he likes to think he is one. He’s an engineer. We live here for protection, the same as you.”
Before Aidan could say anything, Claire asked, “Did it take long for you to adjust to living inside a mountain?”
Lauren shrugged. “I venture outside often with my mate, as his cat goes stir-crazy otherwise.” Lauren leaned toward Claire. “If you want my advice, don’t show fear and the cougars will accept you a lot quicker. It worked for me.”
Claire was about to say she should have no trouble doing that when Aidan pressed against her back and grunted. “Sorry, Lauren. We really need to go.”
Lauren tilted her head. “Before you leave, just one more question: where is Claire staying?”
“In the empty rooms across from mine.”
Lauren studied Aidan a second. “Don’t sound so happy about it, okay?”
To keep from laughing at Lauren’s sarcasm, Claire bit her lip a second. “It’s nice to meet you, but if we don’t leave soon, Aidan will probably start snarling. Besides, all I want to do after trekking through the snow is to take a hot shower. I hope to see you around.”
Lauren nodded. “Of course. See you later.”
Aidan turned Claire down another hallway and Claire decided she would seek out Lauren later. If the rumors were true, Lauren’s mate had survived a kidnapping by Human Purity. The anti-shifter group was one of Claire’s enemies and she could use more information on them to help figure out strategies.
However, soon Aidan stopped them in front of a dark blue door and she looked up at him. His voice was gruffer than she’d ever heard before. “We’re here.”
All Aidan could think about was Claire’s naked body being sprayed with hot water. In his mind, as the water droplets cascaded down her breasts, her waist, and eventually between her thighs, he wanted to lick her dry.
Fucking cougar. Stop with the sex fantasies.
His inner cat merely swished a tail. The goddamn animal was enjoying Aidan’s discomfort.
Arriving at Claire’s new quarters, he struggled to get his brain and cock under control. Even to his own ears, his voice was forced. “We’re here.”
After opening the door, he motioned Claire inside. Giving him a strange look, she thankfully entered without another word. Of course, as she walked in front of him, he couldn’t resist looking at her large, shapely ass.
Claire’s voice broke through his admiration and he quickly looked up before she turned around. “It’s not what I expected.”
He shut the door and crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t tell me, you expected us to have straw beds and holes in the ground for toilets?”
She glared. “No, of course not. But all of the furnishings are made from wood, and not the cheap imitation stuff you get at most stores.”
Despite himself, the corner of Aidan’s mouth ticked up. “We prefer everything real over fake. Our inner animals aren’t fond of processed materials.”
“By that argument, you wouldn’t touch a car with a ten-foot pole.”
He shrugged. “We had to learn to adapt or we would’ve died out a long time ago. You’ve worked with shifters long enough to know how stubborn we are. Scold your inner cougar enough, and they’ll grudgingly accept change.”
“That’s good to know. Maybe I can find a way to use that stubbornness to my advantage.”
“Don’t get any ideas, human. If you are planning to trick Kian, he’ll see through it in a matter of seconds.”
Amusement twinkled in her eyes. “I never said I would use it on Kian.”
“Or on me. It won’t work.”
Claire grinned and Aidan felt like he’d been punched in the gut. Her smile lit up the whole room.
His gaze focused yet again on her lips, the sight of them heating his blood. His cat growled, wanting to taste her.
It took everything he had to push aside his inner cougar and look back to Claire’s eyes. The grin was gone, replaced with something hotter. If he were delusional, he might think she wanted to kiss him too.
Clearing her throat, Claire broke the tension. “So, are you going to give me a tour?”
As he guided her around the kitchen, living area, and bathroom, he counted down from one hundred inside his head to cool his blood. He’d gotten his dick under control by the time they reached the bedroom. But as Claire sat down on the queen-sized bed and rubbed her hand on the smooth, dark blue comforter, his cat urged him to cover her with his body and steal a kiss.
He took a step toward the bed, and then another. Claire looked up at him, her eyes stubborn and he stopped. She asked, “Who’s Chloe?”
He blinked. “Why are you asking me that?”
She frowned. “I need to know who I’m working with. You keep giving me sex eyes and I want to know if you’re the kind of man to sleep with anyone without thought or not.”
With a growl, he took a step toward her, using his height to try to intimidate her. Too bad the damn woman didn’t so much as bat an eyelash at him. His heart pumped harder as anger gathered in his gut. Narrowing his eyes, he didn’t keep the menace out of his tone. “I would never cheat on a female. The fact you think I would is highly insulting. You know nothing about me, Claire Davis, so don’t judge me. Maybe you aren’t the female I thought you were.”
Claire stood up, not caring that she was only a few inches from Aidan’s broad chest. “I was going to wait until Dani came to ask her, but I’d rather hear it from you. Tell me who Chloe is and set me straight on what type of man you are, Aidan Scott. If you refuse, I’ll ask for another babysitter.”
“You won’t ask for anyone else.”
The heat of his gaze as well as his body made her heart rate kick up. Aidan was pure shifter male, every inch of his muscles making her weak in the knees. He was the type of tall, dark stranger she’d never had a chance with. Why she was standing here, asking him about Chloe, she didn’t know. If anything, her behavior could make her stay with DarkStalker even more difficult.
But as his gaze bore into hers, she licked her lips. His eyes followed the action, and wetness rushed between her legs. She’d never wanted to kiss a man so much in her life as she did in that moment. She was drawn to his scent, his touch, and even the spattering of gray hair at his temples.
For the first time, Claire started to understand what some of her friends had said about having no control over attraction.
She finally forced herself to reply. “You aren’t the boss of me, Aidan, so stop ordering me around. I’m not one of your soldiers.”
Aidan took the remaining step between them. If Claire so much as took a deep breath, her hard nipples would brush against his chest. On instinct, her nipples tightened further, aching to feel Aidan’s hard chest.
What the hell is happening to me?
Aidan’s hot breath tickled her forehead. “No, you’re not, which is why you’re dangerous.”
Eyes glowing the same amber as she’d seen earlier in his cougar-form, her heart rate beat even faster. Seeing his animal side in his gaze made her pussy ache. She wondered what all of that raw power and animal magnetism would be like when they were both naked.
No, you can’t.
Remembering how getting involved with a shifter sexually could threaten her campaign, Claire tried to take a step back. Aidan’s hands went to her waist, trapping her where she stood. She whispered, “I don’t know you. I just can’t.”
An emotion she couldn’t define flashed in his eyes before his deep voice caressed her ears. “Chloe is my daughter. I don’t have a mate.”
“Yes.” He moved a hand to trace her cheek and then her lower lip. Claire melted a little at his touch. Yet somehow she remained standing as he continued, “Yes, you can, Claire Davis. I need to know.”
She swallowed. “Know what?”
Lowering his head until he was a hair’s breadth from her lips, he whispered, “I need to know how you taste or I won’t be able to function properly.”
Claire’s mouth went dry. No man had ever needed to kiss her so badly in her life. She looked to Aidan’s firm lips, so masculine yet probably soft to the touch. Surely one kiss wouldn’t ruin her reputation. No one was here but her and Aidan, and she had a feeling that Aidan wouldn’t tell anyone. After all, it could damage his clan and if he really was as important of a protector as she was guessing he was, he would cut off his own leg before harming anyone inside DarkStalker.
Looking back into his eyes, she raised her head. She opened her mouth to tell him to kiss her when there was a knock on the door.
Aidan jumped back like he’d been burned. As he looked at her, he ran a hand through his dark hair. The hungry expression had been replaced with a neutral one she couldn’t read. Claire didn’t like his remoteness one bit.
The cougar-shifter cleared his throat. “That will be Dani. I’ll talk to her while you shower. She’ll be in the living area when you’re done.”
Before she could say anything, Aidan was out the door, leaving her alone in the bedroom. Any heat or desire she’d felt was gone, as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice water over her head.
Rather than dwell on the rejection, she went into the bathroom and locked the door. As she undressed and turned on the simple showerhead inside the standing shower stall, Claire realized how Dani’s knock had saved her from doing something extremely stupid. No matter how attracted she was to Aidan Scott, she couldn’t kiss him.
Stepping under the hot spray of water, Claire closed her eyes. Whatever had just happened was a onetime thing. Next time, she would be able to resist the cougar. The happiness of her aunt, and every other human who fell in love with a shifter, depended on Claire succeeding. Kissing a shifter, any shifter, would have to wait six months.
By then, Aidan Scott wouldn’t be anything more than a distant memory.
Aidan’s cougar snarled and tried to break free as soon as he walked out of the bedroom. His cat wanted the human. Dani could wait until they were done.