Some things are so worth waiting for. Like the moment when Jessica Ward "accidentally" bumps into Bobby Ray Smith and shows him just how far she's come since high school. Back then, Jess's gangly limbs and bruised heart turned to jelly any time Smitty's "all the better to ravish you with" body came near her. So, some things haven't changed. Except now Jess is a success on her own terms. And she can enjoy a romp-or twenty-with a big, bad wolf and walk away. Easy.
The sexy, polished CEO who hires Smitty's security firm might be a million miles from the lovable geek he knew, but her kiss, her touch, is every bit as hot as he imagined. Jess was never the kind to ask for help, and she doesn't want it now, not even with someone targeting her Pack. But Smitty's not going to turn tail and run. Not before proving that their sheet-scorching animal lust is only the start of something even wilder...
About the Author
Charlotte Kane is a classically trained actor with numerous film, television, and voice-over credits. Audiobook narration has become the unexpected niche where her love of books and her love of storytelling come together in an incredible, inevitable fusion.
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THE BEAST IN HIM
By SHELLY LAURENSTON
Copyright © 2008 Shelly Laurenston
All right reserved.
Sixteen years later
"Well, how bad is it?" Smitty asked, handing Mace Llewellyn a hot cup of coffee.
"Bad. Really bad. I can't sleep. I barely eat. I'm terrified they're going to come in the middle of the night and burn the house down." He shook his head and sipped his coffee, unable to continue.
"How much longer?"
Mace took a deep breath. "Another month. But she's talked about not going back. A few months ago I thought that would make me happy; but not now. It horrifies me."
Smitty winced. "Isn't there something you can do?"
When his friend only looked away, Smitty bumped his shoulder with his own. "Fess up, hoss. What did you do?"
"You don't understand," Mace stated desperately. "I had to do something. It's not just us I have to think about, but the baby."
"What did you do?"
Unable to look Smitty in the eye, "I called her father."
"They'll be calling her back to duty next week." Shaking his head, "I had to do something, Smitty. It was out of hand."
"I understand, hoss."
"No, you don't. She's turned friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, wives against husbands. Husbands against tennis coaches. She's started fistfights in the middle of Saks Fifth Avenue. When she's bored-I fear for the world."
Smitty sipped his coffee and marveled at how one cop on maternity leave could destroy an entire Long Island town. Before Dez gave birth, Mace put her in a four-bedroom house in Northport with the hope that if she liked it, she'd rethink living in Brooklyn and, even more important, risking her life every day as a New York City Police detective. But soon after the baby was born, Dez started acting strangely. She never spoke about work, and Mace would come home to a full-cooked meal and a smiling wife more than happy to cater to his every whim. Then the long walks around the neighborhood with the baby and the dogs started. By the time Dez returned home, thirty-year-old marriages were over. Tennis coaches shot at or slapped around at the country club. Dez wouldn't say anything when Mace asked her about it, but she'd offer him a slice of home-baked lemon meringue pie. That was around the time the man stopped sleeping.
"Does she know?"
"I don't know. They were going to call her today, give her the weekend, and bring her in on Monday-but I've been afraid to call home."
Smitty didn't blame his friend. Sure, they may have been Navy SEALS together, caught in the middle of firefights, invading foreign countries, doing whatever their government asked them to do. But not once had they ever felt a fear equal to having a smiling Desiree MacDermot-Llewellyn ask you if you wanted salt for your potatoes.
"Well, we've got a few more hours here at least."
Mace finished off his coffee. "Thank God. I can't go home.... She made me pot roast last night." He crushed the empty coffee cup. "Inhuman. The woman is inhuman."
Smitty finished off his own coffee and tossed the remainder in a trash can. He glanced at the TV screens. They'd set up cameras everywhere they could think of. This being their biggest job to date, Smitty wanted it going off without a hitch. So far, the team had stopped at least fourteen people trying to sneak into the party. When Mace told him a couple of months before they'd been offered a job as party security, Smitty's head nearly exploded off his body. Security for a party or rave were for guys who had criminal records and couldn't become cops. It sure wasn't for the well-armed team they'd assembled since Smitty and Mace opened their business. Then he heard about not only the party but the party throwers. This wasn't some bullshit event, but a computer geek's wet dream. The major players in computers-millionaires to billionaires-from around the country came to the party and had for the last five years. Getting an invitation something you could almost put on your résumé. The amped-up security was to protect the serious heavy hitters that even Smitty, who could give a shit about PCs except when he needed to send an e-mail or download some porn, recognized.
Within a few days it went from "that bullshit job we have to do" straight into an all-hands-on-deck event. Thankfully, they now had the manpower-former military-trained shifters looking for a new life among the civilians. So far they'd hired only three full-humans, and they were Dez's best friends.
"We better go back inside." Mace pushed open the back doors. "You guys okay?" he asked the two males and one female monitoring the screens and keeping in close contact through headphones with the entire team.
"Yup," the female answered as she quickly flipped through channels, those gold leopard eyes picking up everything.
"Good." Mace slammed the doors after Smitty jumped out and the two headed back to the party.
They quickly checked on front-door security and walked inside the building, a four-story brownstone the company that hired them owned. They weren't a big company but apparently quite powerful. Computer and database security specialists or whatever. To be quite honest, Smitty really didn't care. Their money was green enough, and they had lots of it.
Smitty and Mace stepped into the main ballroom and glanced around.
These people definitely knew how to throw a party. This wasn't some mere-and boring-black-tie event. This was a geek party to the nth degree. Hardcore tech music, old-school video games lining the walls, an insane amount of food and liquor-all free-and a hot waitstaff dressed up like those disturbing Japanese animation girls. He'd never seen so many girl school dresses paired with garter belts before in his life. Yeah, these people definitely knew their audience.
Smitty faced his business partner.
"This is Sierra Cohen. Miss Cohen, this is my business partner Bobby Ray Smith."
Smitty shook the female's hand and sized her up at the same time. Yum. Jackal. There weren't a lot of jackals in the world, but the few he'd met were damn cute.
Using his most charming smile, Smitty asked, "So, this is your business, Miss Cohen?"
"Oh, no. No, I'm just a hard-working employee. The owners aren't very comfortable with the general public. So I'm kind of the face of the company."
"I can see why, darlin'."
She gave a throaty laugh and took a step closer. "I have to say, Mr. Smith-"
"Smitty, darlin'. Everybody calls me Smitty."
"Smitty, I have to say I was very glad to find ... uh ... our kind with a security business. I know my employers felt much safer with your team than with the full-humans we usually hire for this event."
"Well, we are available for any security needs you may have. Actually, any needs at all."
He had to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing when he caught Mace rolling his eyes in disgust. Before Detective MacDermot came along, it would have been an ugly fight between the two friends to see who got this little honey into bed first. But now that the big-headed lion had mated and married the lovely and big-breasted cop, poor Smitty was all on his own.
"That's very good to know. I'm sure there's something you can take care of for me later tonight."
"Any chance," Mace cut in, "you two can put a hold on this lovefest until the job is done?"
"Don't mind him, darlin'. He's married."
Mace snarled and Sierra looked at him in confusion. "Married? Why?"
"Because it made my sister want to set herself on fire."
Smitty laughed, clearly remembering the way Missy Llewellyn growled and snarled her way through the ceremony. Then Sissy Mae, Dez, and Ronnie Lee, Sissy's best friend and next in command, spent the entire day torturing Missy. Definitely fun to watch.
"My employers are big on marriage," Sierra added absently. "Marriage and pups."
"Aren't we all big on our pups and cubs?" Mace asked, although he looked like he really didn't care what her answer might be.
"Sure. But they're really big on their pups. Anyone gets too close and they get really tense."
Smitty frowned. "Wolves?"
Sierra shook her head. "No." She turned and nodded toward the enormous doorway. "Wild dogs."
Surprised, Smitty watched Sierra's employers walk into the room. There had to be about ten of them and, he guessed, not the full Pack. They wouldn't leave their pups alone except with other dogs they trusted.
Seeing them immediately reminded him of a sweet little Shedog he used to know. And, like her, they weren't large like the other shifter breeds. In fact, wild dogs were the only breed that shifted into a smaller animal. As human, the men weren't usually taller than five-ten or five-eleven and the women five-eight or five-nine. They were wiry and lanky, and watching them move, Smitty guessed they were a lot stronger then they seemed.
Another wild dog burst through the doors and made a beeline toward Sierra. She was gorgeous-Asian with almond-shaped brown eyes and full, sexy lips. Her dark hair reached to her waist and she exuded sex appeal.
Unfortunately, she was marked. Smitty could smell it on her a mile away.
"Sierra, you need to get up onstage," she said with a country lilt he hadn't heard in a long time from anyone not in his Pack.
Sierra nodded. "I'm on it." Her hand brushed Smitty's arm, letting him know she'd be back.
After she walked off, dark brown eyes locked on him and Mace. "Gentlemen."
"Ma'am," Smitty answered back. "How y'all tonight?"
The female raised one eyebrow. "Y'all making fun of my accent?"
"No, I thought you were making fun of mine."
Her expression changed quickly when she smiled. "Where you from?"
She pointed at herself. "Alabama."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Alabama."
They shook hands and laughed while Mace looked about two seconds from jumping out the closest window.
"I'm Maylin. But everybody calls me May."
"Bobby Ray Smith. We're handling your security tonight."
"Oh, that's right. The shifter-run security company. I have to say I was quite surprised to find a Smith this far north. I'm from just outside Smithburg myself, and I never thought y'all would cross the Mason-Dixon line."
"Well, too many Alpha Males and not enough territory. Figured it was time to see what else was out there."
She glanced at Mace. "Your kin can't be too happy with you working with a cat."
"They tolerate him more than you'd expect."
May started to say something else but stopped when the music cut off and Sierra walked out onto the stage at the front of the room.
"Hello, everyone. I'm Sierra Cohen." Catcalls and whistles followed her statement and Sierra dismissed it laughingly with a wave of her hand. "I'm the VP of Promotions. And I wanted to thank you all for coming tonight."
Sierra continued to ramble for a bit, and May grabbed two glasses of champagne off a tray passing by. She offered one to Smitty, but he waved it off. "Sorry. On duty. Need to keep a clear head."
"I thought wolves just had to stay away from tequila."
"If he drank tequila," Mace muttered, "you'd find him passed out on the dance floor by now."
Smitty glared at him. "So now you decide to contribute to the conversation?"
Onstage, Sierra's voice rose. "So without further ado, let me introduce the CEO of Kuznetsov Security Systems ... Jessica Ward."
Smitty's head snapped around and he watched Jessie Ann walk out onto that stage like she owned it. Maybe she did.
The applause Sierra received upon her entrance was nothing to Jessie Ann's reception. It sounded like they were at a rock concert with the reaction she got.
She didn't look anything like the Jessie Ann he remembered, all gangly limbs and lots of bruises. She'd finally put on some weight and it fit her perfectly, giving her some sexy curves. She'd cut her hair so it rested on her shoulders, straightened it, and dyed it one single color-dark brown. No jeans and sci-fi tees either. Instead, she wore a simple blue silk dress with tiny little straps barely holding it up and five-inch heels strapped to her feet. She looked mature and polished ... and nothing like the Jessie Ann he remembered. He almost mourned the loss of that know-it-all geeky Jessie Ann. He'd always liked her raw edges and weird behavior. It made her different from everyone else around him. Now she looked like any other important CEO-gorgeous but average.
Jessie Ann stood in front of the mic and waved at the roaring crowd.
When they quieted down a bit, she said, "It's the shoes, isn't it?" Then she turned her foot in a bit so they could see it from the side.
The crowd went even wilder. Clearly, she knew her effect on this mountain of male geeks. But Smitty could see the predators in the room watching her too-when they should be doing their damn jobs.
Jessie waved her hands again. "Okay. Okay. Look, I don't want to take up a lot of your time. 'Cause this is a party. But I did want to echo Sierra's sentiments and thank each and every one of you for coming tonight. Each year this party gets wilder and better, and that's down to you guys. As usual, every cent we raise goes to the Kuznetsov Foundation, and all that money is to help orphans and foster kids find permanent placement in loving homes. Other than that-"
A blond-haired wild-dog male sidled up to Jessie Ann, cutting her off. When he began to whisper in her ear, Smitty decided he didn't like the wiry little bastard.
Jessie leaned back, eyebrows raised. Smitty remembered that haughty expression quite well.
"Is that really necessary?" she asked.
The male nodded and she sighed, turning back to the mic.
"Phil here has asked that those who use our gaming room tonight, if you lose, please don't throw your mouse, controller, or cards across the room. And those who win, please don't dance around the loser singing, "I won. You're a loser." The crowd burst out laughing and Jess shook her head, a good-natured smile on her face. "Anyway, have a great night and thank you."
The crowd burst into applause, and Jessie Ann strutted off the stage.
May turned back to him, one glass of champagne empty, the other half filled. "That's our Alpha."
"Your Alpha?" Jessie was someone's Alpha? Smitty had a hard enough time thinking of Jessie as a CEO, much less the Alpha of a Pack. Of course, they were dogs. Much easier to handle a bunch of dogs than wolves probably.
"Yup, has been for nearly sixteen years now."
That didn't make sense. She'd barely been sixteen herself sixteen years ago. And except for Jessie, there'd been no wild dogs in Smithtown.
"Are you sure? Jessie Ann should have been in school."
May almost choked on her champagne. "If you have any sense, my wolf friend, you will not call her Jessie Ann."
"But I always called her Jessie Ann."
Mace gazed at him. "You know Jessica Ward?"
"I went to school with her. Sissy Mae mauled her on more than one occasion." To May, he said, "But I'd like to not mention that if possible."
"Gee," she giggled, "I wonder why?"
"Wait." Mace faced him. "You know Jessica Ward?"
"Why do you say it like that? I know lots of people."
"Yeah, but they're not Jessica Ward."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I'm just saying, Smitty-she's a little out of your league."
His wolf pride threatened, Smitty snapped back, "As a matter of fact, that little gal had a huge crush on me at one time."
Mace snorted. "Yeah, sure. I can see that-in a parallel universe."
Before the two males could get into it, the female they spoke of worked her way through the dancing crowd and over to May.
"How did I do?" she asked.
May gave her a thumbs-up and handed over her nearly empty glass of champagne. Jessie Ann finished it off and dropped it on the serving platter of a passing waiter.
She looked at Mace and smiled in surprise. "Mace Llewellyn!"
"Oh, my God! When did you get out?"
"Over a year ago."
She went up on her toes and gave him a brief hug that had Smitty's eyes narrowing. "I'm so glad you're okay. You are okay, right?"
"I'm fine. Great, actually."
"I'm so glad to hear that. I just saw your sister at a charity ball a few weeks ago, but she didn't mention you were home. Actually, she didn't mention you at all."
Mace's answer was to laugh.
Laughing herself, Jess shook her head. "Ahh. I see little has changed there." She glanced at Smitty and began to walk away. Then she stopped and looked back, her eyes growing wide.
"Oh, my ... Bobby Ray?"
"Wow. Look at you." She stepped in front of him and gave him a quick, rather unsatisfying hug. "I can't believe it. You look great."
Excerpted from THE BEAST IN HIM by SHELLY LAURENSTON Copyright © 2008 by Shelly Laurenston. Excerpted by permission.
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