“Hot and humorous.” —USAToday.com
It’s not every day that a beautiful naked woman falls out of the sky and lands face-first on grizzly shifter Berg Dunn’s hotel balcony. Definitely they don’t usually hop up and demand his best gun. Berg gives the lady a grizzly-sized t-shirt and his cell phone, too, just on style points. And then she’s gone, taking his XXXL heart with her. By the time he figures out she’s a honey badger shifter, it’s too late.
Honey badgers are survivors. Brutal, vicious, ill-tempered survivors. Or maybe Charlie Taylor-MacKilligan is just pissed that her useless father is trying to get them all killed again, and won’t even tell her how. Protecting her little sisters has always been her job, and she’s not about to let some pesky giant grizzly protection specialist with a network of every shifter in Manhattan get in her way. Wait. He’s trying to help? Why would he want to do that? He’s cute enough that she just might let him tag along—that is, if he can keep up …
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Sixteen years later ...
What had she been thinking? Using the "Ride of the Valkyries" as a ringtone? Because that shit waking a person up at six in the morning was just cruel. Really cruel.
And, as always, she'd done it to herself. Forgoing her anxiety meds so she could get drunk with a couple of cute Italian guys that she dumped as soon as the first one's head hit the table.
Charlie Taylor-MacKilligan slapped her hand against the bedside table next to the bed, blindly searching for her damn phone. When she touched it, she was relieved. She had no plan to actually get out of bed anytime soon. Not as hungover as she currently was. But she really wanted that damn ringtone to stop.
Somehow, without even lifting her head from the pillow she had her face buried in, or opening her eyes, Charlie managed to touch the right thing on her phone screen so that she actually answered it.
"What?" she growled.
"Get out," was the reply. "Get out now."
Hangover forgotten, Charlie was halfway across the room when they kicked the door open. She turned and ran toward the sliding glass doors she'd left open the night before. She'd just made it to the balcony outside when something hot rammed into her shoulder, tearing past flesh and muscle and burrowing into bone. The power of it sent her flipping headfirst over the railing.
* * *
"What do you think?" the jackal shifter asked.
Sitting in a club chair in his Milan, Italy, hotel suite, Berg Dunn gazed at the man holding up a black jacket.
"What do I think about what?" Berg asked.
"The jacket. For my show tonight."
Berg shrugged. "I don't know."
"You must have an opinion."
"I don't. I happily have no opinion on what a grown man who is not me should wear."
The jackal sighed. "You're useless."
"I have one job. Keeping your crazed fans from tracking you down and stripping the flesh from your bones. That's it. That's all I'm supposed to do. I, at no time, said that I would ever help you with your fashion sense."
Rolling his eyes, the jackal laid the jacket on the bed and then stared at it. Like he expected it to tell him something. To actually speak to him.
Berg wanted to complain about this ridiculous job, but how could he when it was the best one he'd had in years? Following a very rich, very polite jackal around so that he could play piano for screaming fans in foreign countries was the coolest gig ever.
First class everything. Jets. Food. Women. Not that Berg took advantage of the women thing too often. He knew most were just trying to use him to get to Cooper Jean-Louis Parker. Coop was the one out there every night, banging away at those Steinway pianos, doing things with his fingers that even Berg found fascinating, and wooing all those lovely females with his handsome jackal looks.
Berg was just the guy to get through so they could get to the musical genius. And, unlike some of his friends, being used by beautiful women wasn't one of his favorite things.
It was a tolerable thing, but not his favorite.
"I can't decide," the jackal finally admitted.
"I know how hard it is to pick between one black jacket and another black jacket. Which will your black turtleneck go with?"
"It's not just another black jacket, peasant. It's the difference between pure black and charcoal black."
"We have a train to catch," Berg reminded Coop. "So could you speed this —"
Both shifters jumped, their gazes locked on the balcony outside the room, visible through doors open to let the fresh morning air in.
Another crazed female fan trying to make her way into Coop's room? Some of these women, all of them full-humans, were willing to try any type of craziness for just a chance at ending up in the "maestro's" bed.
With a sigh, Berg pushed himself out of the chair and headed across the large room toward the sliding glass doors. It looked like he'd have to break another poor woman's heart.
But he stopped when he saw her. A brown-skinned woman, completely naked. Which, in and of itself, was not unusual. The women who tried to sneak into Coop's room — no matter the country they might be in — were often naked.
What stopped Berg in his tracks was that this woman had blood coming from her shoulder. The blood from a gun wound.
Berg motioned Coop back. "Get in the bathroom," he ordered.
"Oh, come on. I want to see what's —"
"I don't care what you want. Get in the —"
The men stopped arguing when they saw him. A man in black military tactical wear, armed with a rifle, handgun, and several blades. He zipped down a line and landed on the railing of their balcony.
Berg placed his hand on the gun holstered at his side and stepped in front of Coop.
"Get in the bathroom, Coop," he ordered, his voice low.
"We have to help her."
"Do what I tell you and I will."
The man in black dropped onto the balcony and grabbed the unconscious woman by her arm, rolling her limp body over.
"Now, Coop. Go."
Berg moved forward with his weapon drawn from its holster. The man pulled his sidearm and pressed the barrel against the woman's head.
Berg aimed his .45 and barked, "Hey!"
The man looked up, bringing his gun with him. Gazes locked, fingers resting on triggers. Each man sizing the other up. And that was when the woman moved. Fast. So fast, Berg knew she wasn't completely human, which immediately changed everything.
The woman grabbed her attacker's gun hand by the wrist and held it to the side so he couldn't finish the job on her. She used her free hand to pummel the man's face repeatedly.
Blood poured down his lips from his shattered nose; his eyes now dazed.
Still holding the man's wrist, she got to her feet.
She was tall. Maybe five-ten or five-eleven. With broad, powerful shoulders and arms and especially legs. Like a much-too-tall gymnast.
She gripped her attacker by the throat with one hand and, without much effort, lifted him up and over the balcony railing. She released him then and unleashed the biggest claws Berg had ever seen from her right hand.
Turning away from the attacker, she swiped at the zip line that held him aloft, and Berg cringed a little at the man's desperate screams as he fell to the ground below.
That's when she saw Berg. Her claws — coming from surprisingly small hands — were still unleashed. Her gaze narrowed on him and her shoulders hunched just a bit. She was readying herself for an attack. To kill the man who could out her as a shifter, he guessed. Not having had time to process that he was one, too. Plus, he had a gun, which wouldn't help his cause any.
"It's okay," Berg said quickly, re-holstering his weapon. "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."
"Yeah," Coop said from behind him. "We just want to help."
Berg let out a frustrated breath. "I thought I told you to get into the bathroom."
"I wanted to see what's going on."
Coop moved to Berg's side. "We're shifters, too," he said, using that goddamn charming smile. Like this was the time for any of that!
But this woman rolled her eyes in silent exasperation and came fully into the room. She walked right by Berg and Coop and to the bedroom door.
"Wait," Berg called out. When she turned to face him, one brow raised in question, he reminded her, "You're naked."
He went to his already packed travel bag and pulled out a black T-shirt.
"Here," he said, handing it to her.
She pulled the shirt on and he saw that he'd given her one of his favorite band shirts from a Fishbone concert he'd seen years ago with his parents and siblings.
"Your shoulder," Berg prompted, deciding not to obsess over the shirt. Especially when she looked so cute in it.
She shook her head at his prompt and again started toward the door. But a crash from the suite living room had Berg grabbing the woman's arm with one hand and shoving Coop across the bedroom and into the bathroom with the other.
Berg faced the intruder, pulling the woman in behind his body.
Two gunshots hit Berg in the lower chest — the man had pulled the trigger without actually seeing all of Berg, but expecting a more normal- sized human.
Which meant a few things to Berg. That he was dealing with a full- human. An expertly trained full-human. An ex-soldier probably.
An ex-soldier with a kill order.
Because if he'd been trying to kidnap the woman, he would have made damn sure he knew who or what was on the other end before he pulled that trigger. But he didn't know. He didn't check because he didn't care. Everyone in the room had to die.
And knowing that — understanding that — did nothing but piss Berg off.
Who just ran around trying to kill a naked, unarmed woman? his analytical side wanted to know.
The grizzly part of him, though, didn't care about any of that. All it knew was that it had been shot. And shooting a grizzly but not killing it immediately ... always an exceptionally bad move.
The snarl snaked out of Berg's throat and the muscles between his shoulders grew into a healthy grizzly hump. He barely managed to keep from shifting completely, but his grizzly bear rage exploded and his roar rattled the windows. The bathroom door behind him slammed shut, the jackal having the sense to now go into hiding.
The intruder quickly backed up, knowing something wasn't right, but not fully understanding, which was why he didn't run.
He should have run.
With a step, Berg was right in front of him, grabbing the gun from his hand and spinning the man around so that he had him by the throat. He did this because two more men in tactical gear were coming into the suite through the front door they'd taken down moments before.
Using the man's weapon, Berg shot each man twice in the chest. They both had on body armor so he wasn't worried he'd killed them.
With both attackers down, Berg refocused on the man he held captive. He spun him around, because he wanted to ask him a few questions about what the hell was going on. He was calmer now. He could be rational.
But when the man again faced him, Berg felt a little twinge in his side. He slowly looked down ... and found a combat blade sticking out.
First he'd been shot. Now stabbed.
His grizzly rage soared once again and, as the intruder — quickly recognizing his error — attempted to fight his way out of Berg's grasp, desperately begging for his life, Berg grabbed each side of his attacker's face and squeezed with both hands ... until the man's head popped like a zit.
It was the blood and bone hitting him in the face that snapped Berg back into the moment, and he gazed down at his brain-covered hands.
"Oh, shit," he muttered. "Shit, shit, shit."
The other intruders, ignoring the pain from the shots, scrambled up and out of the suite. As far away from Berg as they could get.
Someone touched his arm and he half-turned to see the woman. She raised her hands and rewarded him with a soft smile.
That's when he calmed down. "Shit," he said again, holding out his hands to her.
She stepped close, held his wrists, studied the blade still sticking out of his side. She then examined the wounds in his chest. Unlike the intruders, he hadn't been wearing body armor. The bullets had hit him, had entered his body, but he was grizzly. Even as a human, you had to bring bigger weapons if you wanted to take down one of his kind with one or two shots.
Berg knew, just watching her, that she was going to help him. She was going to try. But she was in more danger than he was, and she needed to get out of here.
"Go," he told her and she frowned. "Seriously. Go."
He pulled away from her, went to his travel bag, paused to wipe the blood off his hands on a nearby towel, and took out a. 45 Ruger, handing it to her. "Take this."
Her eyes narrowed again as she stared up at him.
"I get the feeling you need it more than me," he pushed. "Just go."
She took the weapon, dropped the magazine, cleared the gun with one hand before shoving the loaded mag back in and putting a round in the chamber.
Yeah. The woman knew how to handle his .45. Maybe better than he did.
She pressed her free hand against his forearm and, with a nod, slipped out the door and out of the suite.
"Can I come out now?" Coop asked from the bathroom. But before Berg could tell him no the jackal was already standing behind him.
"Well ..." Coop said, "that was interesting."
"You could say that."
"Yes. And please stop playing with the knife."
Coop pulled his hand away from the blade handle and attempted to look contrite. "Sorry. Does it hurt?"
Berg frowned at him and Coop nodded. "I'll take that glare as a yes. Maybe I should call the front desk." He started toward the phone on the side table by the bed.
"Think we'll make our train?" the jackal asked.
Slowly, Berg faced Coop and noted, "You're not used to real life, are you?"
"Not really. Why?"
"This is going to be big." When Coop's head tipped to the side like a confused schnauzer, he added, "The hotel room of some big-time penis was just violently invaded."
"Yeah. I said that." No. He hadn't. "Anyway, we'll have to get our stories straight. And we should leave out the girl."
"Oh." Coop thought a moment, the receiver held loosely in his hand. Finally, he said, "I'll call my sister first."
"If anyone can manage this, it's Toni." Coop winced. "But she's going to be annoyed at you. For, you know, letting this happen."
"You're alive, aren't you?"
"Yes, and I'm quite grateful. And I don't hold you responsible for this at all. But my sister ... she won't be as ... open-minded. You should prepare for that."
"I'm sure I can handle a She-jackal."
Using his cell phone to call his sister, Coop chuckled, "Yeah. Sure you can."
Staring at the open bedroom door, Berg asked, "Think I'll ever see her again?"
"The girl that was never here?" Coop asked. He shrugged while waiting for someone to answer on the other end of the phone. "If you keep an eye on the FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted' list ... sure! Because let's face it. That's a woman who seems to have trouble following her around like a needy puppy."
* * *
Charlie avoided the elevator and found the stairs. She ran down until she reached the parking lot. She eased the door open, keeping the friendly giant's gun in her hand. She peeked around the door, didn't see anyone, so she ran toward the exit.
She dodged around the expensive cars, staying low and moving fast. She dashed past a car valet, and out of the lot.
Charlie moved down the street, cutting around the surprising number of people who were up this early. She'd just reached the corner when a man in a black tactical outfit and body armor stepped in front of her. They both raised their weapons at the same time, Charlie already pulling the trigger when a Lamborghini jumped the curb and rammed into the man. Both weapons missed their marks but now her attacker was pinned to the ground, screaming in agony as the passenger window lowered and Charlie heard the familiar — and shockingly casual, considering the circumstances — "Hey, shithead."
The petite Asian woman with the short pixie haircut dyed blue grinned at her. They were sisters but one would never know it by looking at them.
Max MacKilligan asked, "Miss me?"
"Can you just drive?" Charlie got into the passenger seat. "But be careful. You still have human stuck to the grill."
"I should let him shoot you? What kind of sister would I be?"
"One I don't have to visit in an Italian prison."
Chuckling, Max put the car in reverse and Charlie worked hard to ignore the short-lived begging and too-long crunching sounds coming from under the car as she pulled out. Charlie knew her sister was taking her time driving back over the gunman.
Max "Kill It Again" MacKilligan was known for being vengeful.
Once they were on the road and cutting through early-morning Milan traffic, Max pointed down. "Check by your feet."
Charlie did and found a small case. She opened it and let out a relieved sigh.
"Thank you!" she said, putting the eyeglasses on. Suddenly she could see again! She hadn't had time to grab her regular pair off the bedside table before she had to make a run for it and she hadn't gotten her contact prescription refilled in a few months. She kept forgetting. So for the last fifteen minutes, everything had been one blurry mess. Even the helpful giant was just a big, blurry spot. She'd have had to get close to his face to identify him. But he had sounded cute. And so nice!
"Better?" Maxie asked.
"Much. I can now see who's trying to kill me." She looked at Max and immediately cringed at the sight. "Oh, wow. They really beat the shit out of you."
"Excuse me," Max replied, indignant. "These lacerations and bruises are not because of the men who came to kill me. With my usual aplomb, I have dealt with those scumbags."
"Uh-huh. Then what did happen?"
"Why do we have to discuss that? Our lives are in danger."
Charlie gazed at her sister for a few moments before guessing, "Squirrels again?"
"They started it!"
Excerpted from "Hot and Badgered"
Copyright © 2018 Shelly Laurenston.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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