Cassandra sighed and leaned her shoulder against the alley wall. Where are those assholes?
If they didn’t get there soon, she was going to have to enter the sewers alone. And as much as she didn’t want to explore the dark, stinking tunnels searching for a monster... she sure as hell didn’t want to do it alone.
Exhaustion and nerves made her eyelids flutter shut, as she took deep breaths, trying not to think about what she had to do. Trying not to remember the last time she’d faced this type of beast.
Trying, unsuccessfully, not to remember what her ex-partner looked like dead.
Her eyes flashed open. To her shock, Samuel was standing just two feet from her. She knew shifters could move silently, but she was too well-trained to allow him to get that close.
“I’m fine,” she said, but the words sounded rushed, even to her own ears.
He leaned forward, his dark eyes catching hers as he moved his arm to rest above her head on the brick wall. “Why don’t I believe you?”
Suddenly, she found herself pressing further away from him and against the wall. Her heart raced as she begrudgingly admitted to herself how much she enjoyed being around someone as powerful as Samuel.
Huge seemed like an inadequate word to describe him. He was mountainous, a wall of muscles and strength. As a small, human woman, she was accustomed to people being bigger than her, but Samuel was something else altogether.
A man I find too damn attractive.
He had pleasant features, a shaved head, and a masculine face, with hard lines and angels. Whenever she found herself looking at him, she had to consciously force herself to stop staring. If she had her way, she'd never stop staring.
And yet, I’d never date someone I work with, especially not one of my partners.
So I can look... but never touch. Which, well, sucks.
When she didn’t explain her unusual behavior, he raised a brow. “I’ve never known you to let someone sneak up on you.”
He’s really not going to let this go, is he? Fine, then I'll just have to shut him up. “I knew you were there.”
One corner of his mouth lifted. "If you say so."
He moved closer, just a fraction of an inch, but it was enough. She could feel the heat of his body. Despite her best intentions, she inhaled deeply, his rich, earthy scent making the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
When he leaned down and inhaled near her throat, she stiffened. There was something strangely intimate about him breathing in her scent.
“Cassandra,” he said her name, a low groan of frustration.
Heat pooled at her core and she struggled to speak. “We—have a mission.”
It was hard to force the words passed her lips, hard not to grab the back of his head and pull him down for a kiss.
As if reading her mind, he dropped his head closer until their lips were inches from each other. Everything inside her tensed and she felt ready to snap. She wanted to give in to the powerful need pulling the air tighter between them.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Ben said, then came to a sharp stop.
She shoved Samuel back on instinct, her heartbeat filling her ears. “Damn right! It’s been almost ten fucking minutes, where have you been?”
Ben raised a brow. “Yeah, you two looked like you were impatiently awaiting my presence.”
She scowled. “Samuel, there’s a woman inside the market. I know she saw something, but I couldn’t get it out of her. Why don’t you go work your charm and see if she knows anything of use?”
His mouth was pulled into a thin line, but he responded. “Yes, ma’am.”
The wolf stomped away, leaving her and Ben in the alley alone.
“We need your head in the game tonight. Not focused on whatever lady you were about to bang.”
Ben smirked, and she hated that it did all kinds of things to her already heated body. “Why would I be focused on my Saturday night tail when I could be focused on you?”
She felt her cheeks warm and she moved to the front of the alley, turning her back on him. “Yeah, sure, just make sure you’re in work mode.”
His hand slid lightly up her lower back, stopping just next to the double swords she had sheathed on her back. “I had a dream about you last night.”
Fuck. I really don’t want to hear about that.
“Maybe don’t tell your boss when you dream about her.”
“Even if we were beneath the moonlight. The three of us around you... while you were wearing a sexy as hell little, black dress and—“
“Even then,” she interrupted, hating how hot the alley was getting. “Any idea if Ethan plans to show up and do his job?”
He dropped his hand from her back. “He wouldn’t miss this. Not a chance to finally show everyone here that we know how to do our job.”
Samuel, Ben, and Ethan had been assigned as her new partners almost six months ago. And although they’d done their jobs well enough, they were still frustrated to be treated like newbies by the other Protectors.
No matter how much she told them that they’d earn respect when they earned it, they seemed to think that some epic fight would do it. Just the notion irritated her. She’d been doing this for nearly six years... longer than any other Protector. Men with alpha-personalities didn’t last long, and she was determined that these three would survive their first year on the job.
They needed to focus less on making a name for themselves and more on learning from her.
“Did I ever tell you what the human woman said after a night with a pack of wolf shifters?” Ben asked, his tone teasing.
Oh, boy. “No, and don’t feel inclined to now.”
He leaned in as if telling a secret. “She said she’d had a howling good time.”
Her lips twitched as she raised both brows and looked at him. “That was awful.”
“You loved it!” His grin spread, lighting his entire face from the inside out.
She stared at him, unable to keep from smiling. Ben was the kind of man she loved being around. Yeah, he flirted. Yeah, his little touches drove her wild. But his great sense of humor and pleasant attitude made her want to drink him like a sweet shot.
“How about this one... what did the human woman say the first time she saw a wolf-shifter’s cock?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “No idea.”
He smirked. “I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with a human again.”
Groaning, she looked back out at the street. “That’s a terrible joke.”
He moved closer, so that the back of his body pressed against her. “Actually, that was just my way of letting you know that we’re huge. By huge, I mean that we are so well-endowed we have to have our pants tailored for comfort.”
She rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Subtle, Ben, real subtle.”
His infectious laugh came again. “So, what do we need to know about tonight’s monster?”
Every good feeling drained out of her. That’s the last thing I want to talk about right now.
But before she could decide what to say, the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Spinning around, she shoved Ben to the side as a blade dropped into her hand. Pulse racing, she stood ready to attack... and froze as Ethan moved out of the shadows.
For one second her gaze ran over him, from the smug expression on his face, to his well-toned body. Like usual, he was dressed in simple jeans and a t-shirt. His arsenal of weapons strapped on his belt. And also like usual, she could already sense his attitude. The one that meant he wanted to lead their mission. She would have to disabuse him of that notion before they went below ground.
“Maybe next time announce yourself when you’re sneaking up on two Protectors.”
He smirked. “I knew you wouldn’t act first and confirm your target after, not with civilians around.”
He has a point.
Then, his gaze moved to Ben. “And all we know about tonight’s lucky beast is that it’s huge and likes to eat people as snacks.”
That wasn’t all she knew, but she wasn’t about to correct the cocky shifter.
“Do we already have a plan?” Ethan began, striding closer to them. “Because I was thinking—“
“No need to strain yourself. I have it covered.”
His glare focused on her face. “On our pack lands, we frequently had to take care of—“
“This isn’t your pack lands,” she said, in a sickly sweet voice. “And you have a senior Protector here, so there's no need to rely on irrelevant information.”
“Cassandra,” he growled, yellow bleeding into his blue irises.
“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” she asked, the volume of her voice rising.
He glared without speaking.
“If you want to take the lead on a mission, you ask me, got it? Not my boss.”
His mouth curled into a menacing smile. “Then how about I lead this mission?”
You’re not going to lead any mission until I’m sure we’ll all survive it...
But she pretended to think for a minute. “No, sorry.”
“That thing is fucking dangerous!” he shouted.
She advanced on him. “I know that, so let’s not play around. Follow my lead, without complaint, and maybe all of us will get out of there alive.”
Someone cleared his voice behind her. She whirled to spot Samuel.
His gaze slid between them. “The woman said they felt it pass under the street about twenty minutes ago, so just a short time after it killed the man.”
She ignored the way her body shook. “Good, then we can’t be far behind it. Let’s go.”
Starting across the street, she tried to ignore the men behind her. But she couldn’t. Because no matter how much she pushed them away, somehow they’d gotten under her skin.
She might even care about them, maybe more than care about them.
So, no matter what, tonight she was determined they’d survive. If they can just trust me enough to let me take the lead and follow my orders without question.
But then, it isn’t a cold day in hell, so maybe it won’t be that easy.