Brilliant scientist Melinda Caster has discovered a new strain of the Zika virus that stimulates synaptic growth in embryos, causing neuron development beyond normal human levels. When her lab is broken into, Melinda realizes that someone has been keeping tabs on her research and wants it for themselves. A.L.F.A. sends in jaguar-shifter Agent Parish Hamel to help Melinda discover who is after the virus and why. But the attraction between Parish and Melinda may be the real discovery.
Amerella Capone is the great-grandniece of the infamous Al Capone, and she won't let anyone in the Las Vegas Mafia forget it. When Amerella unintentionally stumbles upon bad family business that she wants no part of, she becomes a star witness for a high-profile government case. A.L.F.A. is called in to keep Amerella safe, but cougar-shifter Agent François Dubois has history with his charge, and the secrets between them might do more damage than any gun pointed at his head.
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About the Author
Milly lives in Florida with her husband, children, and spunky dogs, Needy Speedy and Stormy. She is addicted to iced caramel lattes.
Read an Excerpt
Melinda gaped at the hunk of man standing in the doorway and her gulp of tea almost came out her nose.
Holy shit. Could a guy be any hotter? Even though he had a plastic protector in his lab coat's pocket, geeky glasses, and a bow tie, she'd take him here on the conference table with everyone watching. Well, not everyone watching, or this table. But she'd definitely take him.
The stranger took a deep breath and his eyes zeroed in on her. She startled and blushed as the group around the meeting room table glanced at her. "What? I don't know him."
Mr. Kintu, the senior principal research officer, who everyone called the senior PRO, smiled. "Of course, you don't, Miss Caster." He turned toward the man standing in the doorway. "Dr. Hamel, please come in."
More like Dr. Hump-him. Oh, yeah. She'd hump him if she got the chance. She kept her face tilted down, letting her hair fall forward to hide her hot cheeks. The man moved effortlessly despite his tall stature. She noted how the lab coat stretched across his shoulders. Hot damn! This guy might seem like a nerdy research scientist on the outside, but she bet when the clothes came off, things looked quite different. Suddenly the image of him doing the Magic Mike hand gliding down his chest into his pants move sent her brain cells into nuclear meltdown.
Dr. Hamel took another deep breath and his fingers slightly balled into a fist before relaxing. That was interesting. Mr. Kintu greeted him with a handshake then turned to the table. "Everyone, this is Dr. Parish Hamel from the government's Oversight Committee."
All smiles in the room drooped. Anyone with "Oversight" in their title usually wasn't welcome. Especially to Melinda. The reason she ended up there in the African country of Uganda at the Uganda Virus Research Laboratory was because of another male with "Oversight" in his title. More asshole than male.
Good thing he wasn't there to watch over her. Currently, her focus was on a newly discovered virus that seemed to be related to the Zika virus. With no outbreaks and no "cure" needed, she wasn't doing much that seemed important to the government.
Mr. Kintu laughed at the attendees' reaction to the visiting doctor's title. "No worries, everyone. Dr. Hamel is only here for Miss Caster."
"What?" Melinda sat straight up in her chair. "What did I do? I'm not working on anything important."
Mr. Kintu raised a brow. "Didn't you say you were close to a breakthrough?"
Well, shit. She did. That was the last time she opened her mouth in front of the senior PRO. She nodded. "Yeah, sorta."
Her boss smiled. "Now Dr. Hamel is here to assist you in the documentation."
Oh, yay. She plastered on a smile. "Wonderful. I'm always happy to have overstep, I mean, Oversight helping."
Mr. Kintu cast her a veiled glance before turning to the table. "The meeting is dismissed. Everyone have a good rest of the week."
Melinda quickly gathered her notes to get the hell out before-
"Miss Caster, would you please remain."
She set her notes down and sighed. Her best friend and colleague leaned into her. "Girl, at least he's cute under all that garb. Maybe you can finally get you some."
Mel gasped and playfully smacked Dembe on the arm. "You did not just say that."
"Oh, yes, I did." Dembe gave her a huge smile and snuked out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Strange thing was this man was the first to spark her interest in a couple years. And not just her interest, but her libido. Oh, god, did she just think that out loud? Her face heated.
Sex and everything concerning it was almost taboo for her. Growing up in a highly religious home where sex was strictly for having children, and women were not to enjoy it, she had never really explored that part of herself. Not that she hadn't tried.
Her senior year in high school began her rebellion against the vast chains that strangled her. A little late, but considering it happened at all was a minor miracle.
During a school-sanctioned event, she'd slipped out with the boyfriend she wasn't allowed to have. The normal teen hormones flowed within them. In the backseat, she lay with her head crammed against the door armrest, the stupid seat belt gouging into her kidney.
When he finally lay on top of her, she tried to relax, but couldn't, too worried her parents would somehow find out. Shit would hit the fan and she'd be grounded for years. Then she'd have to pull a Carrie at the prom to escape the house. And wouldn't that be fun-
Her boyfriend flattened on top of her, smashing her neck farther into the door. He let out a sigh then sat up. Was that it? she thought. She'd felt him do something down there, but she was expecting overpowering pain, and blood from a stuck pig and brimstone and hell. What was the big deal? And why did people keep doing it?
Soon after, she accepted a full scholarship to an out-of-state college, which her parents forbade her to take. With a backpack loaded with all her wanted possessions, she took the bus away from her home and never ventured back. In the last twelve years, she'd called a couple times, to let them know she was alive.
The last time, she actually listened to the damnation speech a few minutes before she hung up. It was nice to know nothing had changed.
Her choice of career was also decided by her loving parents. In second grade, the class learned dinosaurs had lived millions of years ago. When she told the teacher her mom and dad said the earth was only several thousand years old, the teacher looked dismayed. "I'm sorry, Melinda. I forgot about you. You are supposed to believe what your mother and father tell you."
Even now, she recalled the sarcasm and disdain in her instructor's words. From that moment on, Melinda decided she'd believe only what the books in school told her. In her later years, she learned even her educational materials were not the "real" story. She had to do her own research and make her own decision.
Hard, steady, non-negotiable facts. That was where she found her peace, her way. With facts, no one could tell her she was wrong. Two plus two equaled four and there was no getting around that.
So when she was offered a research position with the Centers for Disease Control, she jumped at the opportunity to work with a prestigious organization whose mission was to better the world through finding the truth with science. Then she learned about the world of politics and how it affected almost everything.
Office politics made as much sense as her zealot parents. If she wanted to have the perks and money, she had to play the game. Which she hated. She was into discovery and advancing science to benefit mankind. All the other things someone else could deal with.
Two years ago when a position opened at the world-famous Uganda Virus Research Lab, she couldn't pass up the chance to get away from a place ruled by money. Certainly the UVRL had its issues, as all places did, but Melinda doubted they were any worse than she'd already experienced. At least in Uganda the temperature seldom rose higher than the seventies, nor fell lower than the sixties. And there weren't any roads to cause road rage. After being there for over a year, she'd learned the climate and customs pretty quickly.
"Miss Caster." She looked at her senior PRO. Oh, right. The hunky, geeky Oversight guy.
With an over-the-top grin, she tilted her head like a star-struck teen. "Yes, Mr. Kintu."
Her boss rolled his eyes. "Dr. Hamel, as I warned you earlier, Miss Caster has a strong . . ." He paused. Mel raised a brow. What had he told this guy about her already? "A strong sense of doing what she thinks right-"
You'd better believe it. "Aww, thanks, Mr. Kintu. I didn't know you cared."
He wasn't finished. "Whether or not she comes off as a-what do you call it?-smart-ass." Their visitor burst out a laugh. Mel, not so much. Mr. Kintu winked at her. If she had one person she wanted in her life in a father role, he would be that man. "Dr. Hamel, please have a seat."
Parish sat across the table from her. His glasses didn't look right. Maybe more like he wasn't used to wearing Coke bottles. Her sight was horrible as a kid. One of the first things she did when she'd saved up enough money was have laser surgery done on her eyes. It was indescribable how much that changed her self-image. It was the first time she could remember waking and seeing the clock without having to feel around for her glasses.
Dr. Hamel slipped off his own glasses and slid them into his pocket. Interesting. Maybe he only needed them for driving. Mr. Kintu turned to Melinda. "Miss Caster, in no way have you done anything wrong. I hope I didn't imply that earlier. Dr. Hamel is here to learn from you-"
"Learn from me?" What the hell? She was a researcher; all she did was learn, not teach.
Mr. Kintu turned to the visitor. "She also has a tendency to interrupt."
"I do not." Her cheeks flooded red.
"As I was saying," he continued, "a tendency to interrupt, which is a sign of a strong, quick mind."
Dr. Hamel nodded. "I am warned. Thank you, Mr. Kintu."
Her senior PRO turned to her. "Now, Miss Caster, Dr. Hamel is here to assist you. To take notes as you dictate your experiment's progress. Everything you do concerning this undiscovered virus is vital to log. We will not be blamed again for 'failing to act' against a new potential health threat.
"We discovered the Zika virus in 1947, and seventy years later, they act as if a nuclear bomb has exploded under our noses. We are well aware of every disease on this planet. And written records will continue to prove that."
"I fully agree, Mr. Kintu," Mel said. "Who's accusing us of not knowing?"
He mumbled under his breath and looked down at papers in front of him. He might've been blushing, though it was hard to tell with his dark-colored skin. "Anyway, Miss Caster, please show Dr. Hamel around the facility and introduce him to those you work with." He stood, signaling the meeting was over.
He turned to the newcomer and offered a hand. "Thank you for coming, Doctor. Your attendance is appreciated." He swiveled toward her. "Miss Caster, please don't beat him up too much. We need to return him in one piece."
Melinda set her laptop and notes on a table in her lab. The room was fairly large for only one person to work in, thus when a piece of equipment or box needed to be stored someplace, it usually ended up in her lab.
Dr. Hump-him-Hamel-followed her in. He took another deep breath. What was up with that? Did he smell something strange? She took a shower this morning. Her little home even had electricity.
Actually, most buildings did in Entebbe. The Ugandan town was one of the larger ones in the small country. It sat on the shore of Lake Victoria in Africa, much like Chicago butted up to Lake Michigan.
"You keep a clean lab, Miss Caster."
"Yeah, you can't have microbes from lunch floating onto a petri dish."
"Penicillin was discovered in such a way."
"Of course; how do you expect a man to discover anything?" She eyed him for his reaction. If he could handle her man-bashing, they'd get along just fine. No woman-bashing, though. Yes, it was a double standard, but it was her lab. If he didn't like it, he really was more than welcome to leave.
"Agreed, Miss Caster. Men are usually not associated with cleanliness."
Did he just agree with her? Holy shit. Maybe she'd found a keeper. Wait, he's Oversight. Never mind.
"Melinda"-yes, she interrupted, dammit-"please call me Melinda." The big guy smiled.
"As long as you call me Parish, I will."
She inwardly cringed. "Parish" reminded her too much of her parents. "No offense, Dr. Hamel, but may I call you by your last name?" She waited for his indignant reply.
"I prefer that, actually," he said.
Holy double shit! He agreed with her again. This hadn't happened since the guys on the vaccination floor agreed to move their beer to another fridge. She would've hated for one of them to accidently drink a virus. Though, how one could confuse a test tube for a beer, she didn't know. But she had no doubt, the men would've found a way.
"Hamel it is, then," she said. Her eyes glanced around the room while her brain scrambled for something to say. She was never good at the whole human-communication thing. That was another nice thing about being a researcher; they were known to work constantly, thus excused from social interaction.
Hamel saved her from herself and spoke first. "How about we start from the beginning and you tell me how you came across this new virus." That she could do.
She opened her laptop, logged into the network, then turned to him. Damn, he was standing close. She hadn't noticed in the awkward moment spent trying to find something to say. He smelled different, a good different. Woodsy, fresh, like he just came in from a run in the forest. Her favorite smells.
That was another thing she loved about where she lived. Before when she thought of Africa, two things came to mind: dense jungle with monster snakes that squeezed you to death, and desert sands that went on forever, unmercifully killing anyone stupid enough to get lost.
But surrounding Africa's largest lake, trees and cleared land dominated the populated areas. Waves gently lapped against the shore on Entebbe's public beaches. As soon as the narrow swaths of sand ended, forests sprang, giving shelter from the sun. Town sidewalks and parks roamed the lake area, letting tourists and natives alike easily dip their toes into the warm water.
Her balcony at home faced the water, always catching the cool winds. At night, she usually sat outside, listening to the waves come in. Sometimes a radio played pop hits in the distance, and happy screams of children chasing the retreating water, only to be caught by the incoming deluge, floated in the air.
Shit. She realized why he was so close to her. Not because she was alluring or exotic. No, he was close so he could watch her type in her network password. Damn. She'd have to change it again. It was time, anyway. She was sure administration wouldn't be happy if they found out "fuckingpassword1" belonged to their lab technician. It fit the criteria: more than eight letters, number included, and she wouldn't forget it. Worked for her.