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By SASHA WHITE
Copyright © 2007
All right reserved.
Chapter One Drake was so engrossed in the papers in front of him that he wasn't even aware of the warmth seeping into his system when it first began. Eyes flicking back and forth from papers to computer screen, mind locked onto one path, he was completely focused on the project in front of him-until the warmth turned to heat and desire washed over him, firing up his blood and making his cock swell.
Gritting his teeth, he lifted his head and scanned the room. The main office space of Hunter Protection Group resembled the bullpen of a cop shop-organized chaos. HPG employed a dozen field agents, all of them with a special talent for hunting the things that go bump in the night, plus support and technical staff. More than half of that staff was in the office that day, and all of them were giving off one emotion or another. A crowd always meant that, once Drake's attention was pulled from the task at hand, emotions came at him from all sides.
Frustration, anxiety, worry, happiness, contentment, and finally the desire. Drake had learned at a very young age to protect himself from the emotions that he felt all too easily. After thirty-plus years, keeping his psychic shields up at all times was automatic, but every now and then he slipped.
Less than five feet away Jewel Kattalis perched on the corner of his partner's desk, and Angelo Devlin, AKA "Devil," was eating the woman up with his eyes. A person didn't need to be an empath to know what the guy was thinking. Except Drake was an empath. So not only could he guess what Devil was thinking, he could feel what he was feeling.
Heat. A lot of heat, coursing through his veins and settling in his dick.
Swallowing a groan, Drake gritted his teeth and tried to get control. He closed his eyes, breathed deep, and slammed shut the psychic pathway in his mind that had eased open when he wasn't paying attention.
"You two gonna do any work or just drool over each other all day?" he practically snarled at the couple nearby.
Devil's head snapped around. "What?"
Drake glanced pointedly at the sultry brunette on the edge of the desk.
"Get a grip, man. I can't think straight with the two of you wanting to do nothing more than fuck like hyperactive rabbits." He sent the thought at Devil before continuing out loud. "Get out of here. I'll finish the paperwork."
Devil was a telepath so Drake's silent message got through loud and clear. He grinned and stood, grabbing Jewel by the hand and pulling her toward the door. "C'mon, babe. Drake needs some space."
The door closed behind the couple and the desire leaked slowly from Drake's system, leaving him calm ... mostly.
Just then another agent strode past Drake's desk and a wave of anxiety swarmed him.
Fuck the paperwork, he needed to get out of there, fast. Drake shut down his computer and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair before striding from the room without a word to anyone. He needed to find his own happy place and take the edge off the raw emotions overloading him.
Eyes closed, head bent, Drake focused on the waves of pleasure that Linda felt. They rolled over his mind, making his balls tighten and his dick even harder. His skin itched all over, and the telltale tingle between his legs grew stronger with every pump of his hips. Burying himself deep into Linda's warm, willing flesh, he reveled in her arousal.
He lowered his head, found her nipple, and sucked it between his lips. Another jolt of pleasure hit him and he sucked harder, scraping her with his teeth until her back arched and her sighs turned to moans. Soft hips moved to meet his thrusts, her pussy sucking at him each time he withdrew, her fingers digging into his back. Sliding his hand between their sweat-slicked bodies, he nudged her hard little clit and her climax crashed over them both. Her cunt clenched and sensations engulfed him, helping him ride her orgasm to his own.
Heart pounding, he rolled off the woman and basked in the blank moments of space when there was nothing but satisfaction and contentment floating around the generic hotel room.
He could've drifted right off to sleep. He was almost there when Linda rolled over, her hand trailing across his chest. It wasn't the physical touch that disturbed him, it was the longing that emanated from her that did it. She wanted more from him than he could give. Biting back a sigh, Drake raised his shields and sat up on the side of the bed.
Without a word, Linda slid from the bed and headed for the bathroom, her delicate hand trailing over his bare shoulder as she passed him. It was a familiar touch, one of commiseration and comfort, yet covetous at the same time.
He'd called on her often enough that she knew exactly how he liked things-straightforward and simple. She'd been happy when he'd called. Not the fake "You're a regular customer" kind of happy, but truly happy.
Drake hadn't been sure if she was glad because he knew which buttons to push to get her off when she had to work a lot more to please most of her customers or because he paid her well. He hadn't really cared, either.
Women found him good looking and he would have had no trouble picking up a stranger for the night when the urge to fuck hit him, but Linda was-she'd been his haven, an uncomplicated woman who wasn't ashamed of getting paid to have sex with a select clientele and then leave them alone. But she was starting to want more.
She would never ask for anything from him-she was a professional-but she didn't have to. He felt it. And that meant he wouldn't be seeing her again.
Drake was back in the office and at his desk early the next morning. Something in the pages he'd been going over had niggled at the back of his mind all night, and he couldn't let it go.
The instant Devil and Jewel walked through the doors he called to them. "Get over here and take a look at this."
Alerted by the tone of Drake's voice, Devil quickened his step, and Jewel followed him. "What'd you find?"
Drake showed them the one gem he'd unearthed from the mountain of crap HPG had pulled from the home of the werewolf he'd taken out four days earlier. "This guy had a ton of notes on all sorts of supernatural stuff. Astrology, myths, legends ... and this."
Devil scrutinized it for a minute but shook his head before handing it to Jewel. "What is it?"
Jewel gasped. She raised her gaze and Drake nodded. "It's the Navajo symbol for skinwalker," she murmured. "What most urban legends call shape-shifters."
That got Devil's complete attention. Three months earlier, Jewel's younger sister had been kidnapped by a demon and held hostage as the key to open up a gateway to hell he'd built. They'd gotten her back safe and sound, but the demon had wanted Nadya because she was half pureblood shape-shifter.
The real shit thing was, no one knew what being a pureblood shape-shifter really meant. Not the gypsy caravan Jewel and Nadya were raised in, and not Devil or Drake. Worse yet, none of the many researchers employed by HPG had been able to dig up anything beyond legends.
It would be an understatement to say the last three months had been a lot of trial and error. They'd stumbled their way along, trying to figure out what exactly Nadya's powers were. And Drake, who rarely had an emotion of his own but felt everyone else's so clearly, found himself sympathizing with the tough sixteen-year-old who was scared of the unknown within herself.
This symbol, found in the home of a rogue werewolf, was their first lead to finding another shape-shifter, and maybe eventually some help for the girl.
For the next three hours they shuffled through the rest of the files and notebooks on Drake's desk. As long as they all stayed focused on the job at hand, Drake was fine, but he kept getting flashes of Jewel's excitement. It didn't matter that he was shielding himself as much as he could.
"Everything points to a Sharza in Chadwick," Devil said with a sigh. "Is that a nickname? A family name? We need to go check out the town and find this person. They might be able to help us understand Nadya."
Jewel raised an eyebrow at her lover, her dark eyes lighting up with temper. "Excuse me? I understand my sister just fine, thank you."
"Her powers. Help to understand her powers."
"Even if we do find them, and this person is a true skin-walker, do we really want their help?" Jewel asked, shaking her head slowly. "They use powerful black magic to take on the shape of the animals they kill. That's why we were raised to believe all shape-shifters are evil. I'm not so sure this is the sort of person we want helping my sister."
"I thought you said shape-shifters aren't evil. That even their 'bastard cousins,' the werewolves, weren't necessarily all bad."
Jewel's spine snapped straight and she glared at her lover. "Nadya's not evil."
"I'll go," Drake said, interrupting them before they could really get going. Their rising emotions were making his skin itch all over and his head was starting to ache. "I'll just go do some recon and poke around a little. You need to stick around and get the new house ready for Gina and Caleb's Christmas visit."
"You want to go alone?" Devil stared at him. "Gina will be pissed if you're not here when they arrive."
Gina was Devil's newly married kid sister, and Drake loved her like she was his own blood. He and Devil had gone through boot camp together in the military and became close friends when they realized they had more in common than just psychic abilities. When Drake had gone home with Devil one year, Gina had made him feel like another brother. And since she'd just recently learned exactly what they did for HPG, she and her new husband were going to visit them for the holidays for the first time.
It would be nice to share the holidays with those he considered family, but he was already getting sick of being battered by happy-happy from being around the thoroughly-in-love Devil and Jewel. Add in a set of newlyweds and he didn't know if he'd survive. Time alone before dealing with a houseful of people was very appealing, even if he'd still be working.
Shit, all he ever did was work anyway.
"I'll be back before they arrive." He met Devil's gaze. "But I could use some alone time before things get too hectic."
Understanding filled Devil's eyes. Every now and then Drake needed to get away on his own to recharge when his shields began to slip too often. When that happened, other people's emotions started to swamp him and drive him a little bit crazy. And they both knew crazy was not a good fit for him.
"I'll leave in the morning and call if I learn anything." Mind made up, he shut the lid on his laptop and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair before striding from the room without another word.
Chapter Two The plan had been to leave for Chadwick in the morning, but as usual, shit happens and the plan had to be adjusted. Drake left Vancouver after dinner, not bothered at all by the thought of driving through the mountains at night.
The ten-hour drive from Vancouver, where the Hunter Protection Group offices and training compound were based, to Chadwick was nothing but peace and quiet for Drake. Driving his own truck meant he had his preferred weapons handy. It didn't matter to him that he wasn't officially on a case, he didn't like to be caught unprepared. Especially since traditional weapons weren't always of use against the things he hunted as an HPG agent.
Drake zoned out as he drove, letting his ingrained survival instinct take over while he rebuilt his psychic walls. He didn't play music, he didn't talk to himself, he didn't even think. He watched the snow fall, flicking his lights from bright to low beam depending on the road and the density of the snowfall. The roads consistently got worse as he headed deeper into the mountains, but it didn't bother him. Not much truly bothered him anymore. As long as he could just be without suffering other people's stray emotions, he was fine.
It was just after five in the morning when Drake took the highway turn off into the valley where the entrance to the small town of Chadwick could be found. Spread out over the bottom of the valley and continuing up the sides of the mountains and blanketed in deep fluffy snow, Chadwick was too picturesque for words, even at night. Postcard perfect, it was secluded, slightly old fashioned, and completely innocuous.
The perfect place for a shape-shifter to hide.
He checked into the only hotel he could find, ignoring the way the pretty redhead behind the desk flirted with him, and went to check out his room.
The hotel was a big, old stone structure. Obviously a heritage building, well built with solid walls and solid doors, yet well maintained and clean with an almost-homey feel. He slid his weapons bag under the bed, did a quick sweep of the room, and decided to take a look at the town before it woke up.
She knew he was there before she saw him. The crisp winter wind carried his scent, warning her that she was no longer alone in the night.
The new scent floating on the air had jolted her mind from the joy of running and brought her back to the here and now quickly. Attention tightly focused, she inched forward and crouched at the edge of the tree line to scan the surrounding area. In the dark of the night she could clearly see the building ten yards in front of her that housed both her home and her business.
Creeping through the empty yard on soft paws, she paused at the back door. She should forget about the scent and get inside undetected while she still could. As foolish as it was, she knew even as the thought entered her brain that her curiosity would win. It was the way of cats, big or small, and at that moment, she was as much cat as she was woman.
Besides, now she could hear the frosty whisper of footsteps crunching on the snow in the silent night. He wasn't as close as the wind-carried scent had first implied.
Adrenaline pumping up through her system, she made her way along the side of the building, keeping close to the brick walls so she stayed in the shadow of the street lamp when she peered around the corner. It was a bit of a risk, but chance was on her side. He wouldn't spot her.
There he was-less than half a block away and heading in her direction. She watched as the stranger walked up the deserted main street of Chadwick.
The rhythm of his gait and the way he constantly checked his surroundings put her nerves on edge. Smooth and relaxed, yet with a sharp awareness that radiated off the man while his head swung from side to side as if he were searching for something. Or worse, hunting something.
Her heart jackhammered in her chest. Melissa Montrose was not fond of hunters.
The pitch-black night made him look so ... alone. No, that's not right. The closer he got, the more she saw, and she knew it wasn't only darkness and the quiet of the night that made him seem so. It was something about him. Melissa got the sense that even in the middle of a crowd, that man was alone.
He stopped in front of the bookstore below her apartment, and a shiver rippled down her spine. For a moment he just looked in the bookstore window, then his head swung around, his gaze landing unerringly on the corner she peeked around.
Melissa froze, her breath catching in her throat as anticipation flooded her veins. As long as she didn't move, there was no way he would see her in the shadow. But she saw him clearly, and her disquiet took on a new edge. Danger. Her insides quivered and a new, elemental tension coiled low in her belly.
He was pure, powerful, alpha, and she wanted him.
The stranger shook his head, then turned and moved back toward the center of town-and she found herself almost wishing he had seen her.
She gave her own head a shake, then made her way to the back door of the building. She shouldn't want him. Hot and sexy was good-Melissa could use some hot and sexy in her life that wasn't self-induced. Mysterious-not so much. Mysterious made her ... antsy. Danger was one thing. Risk was something else entirely.
Yep, the man was dangerous.
Especially since he prowled the empty streets in the middle of the night. Sure, she'd been prowling the forest in the middle of the night, but she was different.
Melissa paused at the back door to take one last look around, ensuring she was indeed alone. Then, with nothing more than a thought, magic swept through her and she shifted, leaving the winter lynx behind. Naked skin pebbling in the chill air, Melissa entered the building as a young woman. (Continues...)
Excerpted from PRIMAL MALE by SASHA WHITE Copyright © 2007 by Sasha White. Excerpted by permission.
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