You can't outrun a hunter like Angus Murray...
The last thing black wolf Shifter Angus Murray wants is to go chasing down some fugitive Shifter woman for Shifter Bureau. But when a Bureau agent threatens Angus's son, Angus will do anything it takes to track down the elusive Shifter and protect his cub.
...You outfox him...
For twenty years Tasmin Calloway has been on the run, relying on her street smarts and easy charm to sweet-talk her way out of trouble. She knows she should put as much distance as possible between herself and the hot-bodied Angus. But she also longs to let down her guard, to experience a true connection with another person. Yet, with tenuous trust comes a companionship she never expected. And as the fragile link between them turns to something more, Tamsin will have to break all her own rules and believe Angus will keep her secrets--and her heart--safe.
About the Author
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Angus Murray, black wolf of the New Orleans Shiftertown and bouncer in this New Orleans bar, made a show of looking around. Music thumped, the darkness broken by swirling colored strobes and the small white light above the front door. Angus stood in that light's shadow.
"I don't know," he answered. "Am I?"
The man addressing him was a suit-too clean-cut, every hair in place-but he had the craggy face of a man who used to be a soldier. He'd traded military for civilian in a big way, and was polished and slick, way out of place in this Shifter-groupie bar.
"I'm recruiting you for a job," the suit said.
Angus looked down on him from his six-foot-five height and rubbed away a bead of sweat before it could trickle into his close-cropped beard.
"Already have a job." Angus gestured to the packed, five-story bar with a staircase running up the center. Couples snaked around each other on the dance floors or made out in dark corners. Shifters and humans mixed-Shifters because they were bored, humans because they were excited to be around Shifters. "I make sure partying humans and Shifters don't hurt one another, and themselves."
Case in point-a human male getting in a female Shifter's face. He was drunk, waving his beer bottle at her, and the next second, he hit her with it.
Female Shifters could take care of themselves, so Angus didn't move until the female rose in a snarl of rage and tried to tie the human into a knot. Her Collar went off in an attempt to dampen her violence, but it didn't stop her from hanging the man upside down by his heels.
Angus waded to her. "Put him down, love."
The woman, a Feline Shifter, had a bruise on her cheek and fire in her eyes. "The dickhead hit me. Because I didn't want to go do dirty things in the alley with him."
"I know. I saw. But you have to let him go."
Angus spoke sternly. He was supposed to keep Shifters from hurting humans, no matter what the idiot humans did, so Shifters wouldn't be arrested and executed. No violence against humans. That was the rule. The Feline was from his Shiftertown, but Angus couldn't cut her any slack.
The Feline gave Angus a sudden smile, her long wildcat teeth showing. "Sure thing," she said, and dropped the man on his head.
The man howled and scrambled around, trying to get to his feet. The Feline dusted off her hands and disappeared back into the crowd, to the cheers of her friends.
Angus helped the human to stand. "You should go."
The man jerked from Angus's grasp. "Don't touch me, freak. I want that bitch arrested. And I'm suing this place."
Angus gripped his shoulder. "Not a suggestion. Go."
He put just enough growl into it. Angus was large and strong, and usually scowling, which helped. His cub, Ciaran, said it made him look like a wolf with a toothache.
The man opened his mouth to argue, got a good look at Angus's eyes, gulped, and spun away. He slouched unhurriedly out of the bar, muttering that he was tired of this place anyway.
The suit materialized from the shadow where he'd retreated. "I'm right. You're exactly who we're looking for."
That didn't sound good. "To do what?"
The man beckoned Angus to follow him and turned away.
Angus didn't like beckoners. The raised, curling finger was annoying, the gesture saying the beckoner believed himself to be in charge. This guy was clearly Shifter Bureau, because only one of them would walk into a Shifter bar and order people around.
Angus followed the suit for two reasons. One, his shift was almost over and another bouncer had arrived to take his place. Two, Angus feared in the back of his mind that if he didn't make a show of respecting Shifter Bureau agents, they'd use his son as leverage. Ciaran was all Angus had. Ciaran's mum had gone to the Summerland, dead and dust, but she'd been dead to Angus years before that. The one love in Angus's life was the little wolf cub with the smart-ass mouth.
The suit led him to the manager's office. It was empty; the manager rarely came in here.
As the man shut the door, Angus leaned against the desk, folded his arms, and crossed one booted foot over the other. Closing yourself off, Dad, Ciaran would say. You have to let other people in.
Other Shifters, sure. Not assholes who worked for Shifter Bureau.
"What's the favor?" Angus snarled the words. "You don't mean a job with pay."
The suit shook his head, unworried about being alone back here with an irritated Lupine Shifter. His dark hair shone in the office's light, his eyes sharp and blue. One edge of his suit coat drifted back to show Angus the butt of a pistol in a holster. The pistol looked odd-probably a tranquilizer or Taser. Whatever.
"No pay," the man confirmed. "But you'll do it. We need you."
"I'm touched." Angus stood up, wanting his full height advantage when he told this dickwad what to do with himself. "I'm also busy."
"It's not a suggestion." The man echoed Angus's earlier words, another mannerism that annoyed him.
"Okay, look," Angus said. "I know you Bureau shits think you can come and tell Shifters what to do, but you have rules too. I'm working a job to keep my cub fed and clothed. I'm allowed to do that, without interference. I don't have to drop everything to do favors for Shifter Bureau whenever they want extra muscle."
The suit reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a card and a small manila envelope. He held out the card to Angus, and when Angus made no move to take it, he dropped it on the desk.
"I'm Jayson Haider, special operations. We're recruiting you because you're a tracker, a good one, and we need you to track a particularly evasive target."
Haider pulled a couple of grainy photos out of the envelope and slapped them on the desk.
The first photo showed, from a distance, a woman with long hair, her face half turned from the viewer as though she had no idea she had a telephoto lens on her. There was just enough resolution to make out that she had a pointed face, a lot of hair, and a scowl that could match Angus's for fierceness.
The second and third photos were from even farther away, and showed an animal-no clue what it was from that distance-running away.
"The subject is Tamsin Calloway. She's Collarless, on the run, and needs to be brought in."
Angus touched the photos, willing their blurriness to clarify, but they remained fuzzy and hard to discern.
"By me," Angus stated.
"Why?" Angus shoved the photos away. "If you want to round up a Collarless Shifter, I'm sure you have plenty of Shifters at your beck and call to do that dirty work. I don't know this woman."
"No?" Haider actually looked surprised. Did he think all Shifters were best friends with one another? What a dickbrain. "She knew your brother."
All the air rushed out of Angus's lungs. By the time he inhaled again, rage seared every inch of his body. "You shut the fuck up about my brother."
Gavan, Angus's older brother, was dead, killed years ago when he'd tried to break Shifters out of captivity. He'd been the leader of a covert group who'd tried first to negotiate with Shifter Bureau and the governments of various countries to free Shifters, and then had turned to violence.
Gavan had led marches and attacks against Shifter Bureau offices, wanting to show the threat Shifters could be if they chose. At least that's what Shifter Bureau claimed they'd wanted. Angus hadn't seen Gavan since the night he and Gavan had argued and then fought with teeth and claws about Angus joining him.
Angus had thought the group was pointless and stupid and would only get Shifters killed. Gavan had called him a coward and an ass-licker. They'd parted in fury. The kicker was that Angus's mate, April, had taken Ciaran and joined Gavan.
The next time Angus had seen Gavan was when he'd been dead, shot and laid out next to the rest of his followers-including April-waiting for the Guardian to send them to the Goddess. Angus and his Shiftertown leader had insisted that Shifter Bureau let their funeral be in the Shifter way-their souls released and their bodies rendered to dust when the Guardian thrust his magical sword through their hearts-rather than having them buried in a mass grave. Shifters had a horror of burial. If Shifters' bodies weren't reduced to dust, their souls could float free, easy pickings for anyone magical, like the Fae, to enslave.
The New Orleans Shiftertown's Guardian had dispatched first Gavan, then April and the others, while Angus had shielded Ciaran from the sight.
If this woman in the photo had been one of Gavan's, why was she still alive and roaming around when those who'd followed Gavan were dead and gone? And how close to Gavan had she been?
Or was this all bullshit on the part of Shifter Bureau? Angus wouldn't put it past them to rile him up over his brother to get him to find this woman for them for whatever reason. Maybe Angus's name had come up when they'd drawn the who-should-we-be-a-pain-in-the-ass-to-today? lottery.
"I'm asking again," Angus said. "Why me? Don't you have other bloodhounds to round up Shifters for you?"
"She's been seen in the area," Haider said without changing expression. "If she was close to your brother, she might trust you."
"Doubt it. Why do you want her so bad? What can one fairly young female Shifter do to chafe the hide of Shifter Bureau?"
At last Haider showed some emotion-weariness, frustration, and anger. "She stirs up other Shifters, sabotages Shifter Bureau vehicles, breaks into offices and destroys records, and harasses agents. It's a possibility that she killed two agents in Shreveport a month ago. We need to bring her in."
"A possibility?" Angus could sympathize with a Shifter who riled up the Bureau, but Shifters weren't killers. Fighters, yes, but not murderers.
"Two agents were found cut to pieces," Haider answered in clipped tones. "A Shifter did it, all right."
"Let me get this straight. You want me to chase after a woman who might have killed two humans, but you don't know, and all I have to go on are these blurry photos? And she once upon a time knew my brother?" Angus held up his hands. "Forget it. I'm not in love with the Bureau enough to help you fix your screwups."
Haider's eyes narrowed. "You will do it, or we can revisit just how much you had to do with your brother's revolt."
Angus only gave him a tired look. "I was cleared of that years ago. I'll be cleared of it again. I had nothing to do with it and everyone knows it."
"All right." The man straightened up, his mouth tightening in a grim line. "I didn't want to do this. I hoped you'd cooperate, but you're forcing my hand."
"No offense, Haider, but piss off. I'm clocking out and going home." Angus moved to the computer on the desk to tap out his code to finish his hours, but Haider spoke again.
"Your son. Ciaran."
Angus stilled, his fingers hovering above the touch screen. "What about him?"
"He isn't home. My agents have orders to look after him until you bring in Tamsin Calloway."
Angus didn't hear anything after the first few words. He launched himself over the desk and into Haider, slamming the man against the nearest wall.
"First rule," he snarled, his face changing to the beast between his human form and his black wolf's. "Don't touch the cubs."
"He won't be hurt," Haider said, calm for a man with a wolf's claws around his throat. "If you cooperate."
"Fuck you, dickhead-" Angus's words cut off in a crackle of electricity and searing pain as his Collar and the Taser in Haider's hand went off at the same time.
Two hours later, Angus walked into an illegal gaming den down in the bayous, acting on a tip HaiderÕs agents had received. For the last week or so, Tamsin Calloway had been seen hanging out in the area of Houma and smaller towns, coming and going, up to something-who knew what?
She'd been visiting this old plantation house that held card games in one of its back rooms-the games were known to local police but deliberately ignored. Someone along the line was probably getting a kickback.
Angus drove from New Orleans in the car Haider had lent him, a pathetic old station wagon from the last century. Angus had taken one look at it and objected in disbelief, but Haider said, "She won't notice you're Shifter in this. We need a quick capture. Do everything right, and you and your cub will be going home together tonight."
Angus only kept himself from strangling Haider by reminding himself that Ciaran's life hung in the balance. Shifter Bureau might not go so far as to kill a cub-such an act would have repercussions, even for Shifter Bureau-but they could take Ciaran away from him, foster him with a Shifter family far away, forbid Angus to see him again.
Might as well send him to dust, Angus thought bitterly. He didn't have much in his life anymore besides Ciaran. His son was his whole world.
Angus parked the car in a closed-down gas station a little way from the plantation house and proceeded on foot. He reasoned he didn't want to come out dragging his quarry to find himself hemmed in by other vehicles. Or maybe he just didn't want to be laughed at, a big bad Shifter emerging from a faded, wood-paneled station wagon.
Cars and motorcycles were parked haphazardly in the dirt around the house, showing he'd been right about the possibility of getting blocked in. Popular place.
Old plantation houses in this area either became tourist attractions, if there was money to fix them up, or slowly fell apart in the hands of private owners. This one looked to be in better repair, its columns ghostly white in the fog, lights flickering in its windows.
Angus moved stiffly, his nervous system recovering from the multiple shocks from his Collar and the Taser. Haider hadn't needed to tase him, but the man was a bastard. Angus had known as soon as Haider mentioned Ciaran that he'd be chasing down the Shifter woman. He'd attacked Haider to make him understand what would happen to him if Ciaran was harmed in any way. There was no need to subdue Angus to get him to obey.
A guard stood inside the door of the plantation house, a human who was almost as large as a Shifter. He gazed at Angus with narrow eyes until Angus gave the password. Haider had known that too.
Again Angus wondered why the hell Haider hadn’t simply sent in a bunch of Bureau commandos with black fatigues and tranq rifles to grab her. The man wasn’t telling Angus everything.
As Angus stepped inside the dimly lit interior, he saw that this place was more than a backwoods casino. To the right of the main hall was a large living room, lit with darkly shaded lamps. People lounged on sofas together— very close together. From the scents Angus caught, they were human and Shifter.
Humans and Shifters were upstairs as well, from the scent of things. Interesting. Was someone running a brothel or was this a house where humans and Shifters could mingle without anyone getting in a twist about it?
A black-skinned Shifter came down the stairs, the man almost as tall as Angus but not as big, his muscles more ropy. Angus placed himself in front of him.
“What are you doing here?” Angus asked in a quiet voice. He didn’t say the Shifter’s name, though he’d known it for years—Reginald McKee, currently second in command in his Shiftertown. Names and ranks might not be a good thing to throw around here.
Reg halted on the bottom step, looking, if anything, embarrassed. “Just hanging out. You?”
“Looking for someone.” Angus kept his voice soft as a breath. Reg, being Shifter, could hear him, but anything louder and every other Shifter here would too. “Shifter female.”
Reg huffed a laugh. “Can you be more specific?”
Angus leaned forward and whispered the name into Reg’s ear. Reg looked thoughtful, then shook his head. “No idea, my friend. Sorry.”
“Help me look?”
Reg’s amusement died. “Why? Her mate pissed off at her or something?”
Angus rubbed his hand over his uncombed hair. “It’s complicated.”
Reg’s wildcat was mostly serval, a small creature, but wickedly fierce. His lack of bulk made him quick, canny, and cautious.
He knew Angus was being evasive, but Angus couldn’t explain. Not when Ciaran’s safety depended on it.“I’ll scout around,” Reg said. “What does she look like?”
“Red hair, young—” Angus broke off in frustration. That was all he knew, and Haider hadn’t even told him what kind of Shifter she was. Maybe Haider didn’t know.
Reg raised his brows. “Right. If I see her, I’ll tell you. I won’t grab her myself.”
“Probably for the best,” Angus agreed. “Where’s the card room?”
“Back there.” Reg gave Angus another skeptical eye. “We’ll have to talk, my friend.”“Yep, we will.”
Reg had taken over being second in command to the Shiftertown leader when Angus had been forced to step down from the position because of Gavan. Reg had felt bad about it, but Angus had never blamed him . . .
“Good luck.” Reg nodded and skimmed back up the stairs to start searching, the litheness of his wildcat evident.
Angus took his plodding wolf self down the hall where Reg had pointed, finding the card room after peeking intotwo other chambers. No guards stood at the door— it seemed that anyone could walk in and throw his money away on a poker game if he wanted.
This room, like the others, was dim except for lights directly over the card tables. Smoky too— no one had decided to ban cigarettes and cigars here. Ashtrays on and next to the tables overflowed, the stench of used cigarettes cloying.
Through the haze, Angus saw her.
Tamsin Calloway looked younger than in her photo. She had a wave of bright red hair flowing back from a broad forehead, her face narrowing to a somewhat pointed chin. He couldn’t tell the color of her eyes from this distance, but her skin was the pale hue of a true redhead, one from the northern climes of Scotland. Angus had seen Fae inside Faerie with hair that color.
She sat at a table that held seven other men, all human. Her cards hung negligently in her hands while she leaned forward with a little smile, as though eager for the next bet. They were playing Texas Hold ’em. The cards showing on the table were two queens, a jack, and a ten. Plenty of money sat in a pile in the middle. No chips, just cash.
As Angus paused, trying to decide on his approach, one of the men at the table glared at Tamsin. “I’ll raise you a hundred.” He shoved in a stack of twenties.
“I’ll see that,” Tamsin said without losing her smile.
Four of the other men groaned and tossed down their cards. “Fold,” they each said, with one saying, “I’m toast.”
Three men and Tamsin left. Two put in their money, leaving it to the man who’d raised the last time. He plucked up two more twenties and a ten and let them drop into the pile. “Another fifty.”
Tamsin shrugged and added her money. Another man threw his cards down in disgust. “I’m out.
”Now it was Tamsin and the other two. One man looked at his cards, the ones on the table, and the pot. He sighed and pushed his chair back. “Damn it.”
The remaining man watched Tamsin. He hunched forward, anger in every line of his body. If he didn’t win, things might go badly for Tamsin.
“Call,” the man snarled.
Tamsin laid down her cards. “Two little ladies make four of a kind.”
A string of foul words came out of the man’s mouth. His cards fell from his hand, nowhere near anything to win.
“You cheating bitch!”
Tamsin raked the money to her and rose. Ignoring the raging man and his friends, who were telling him to suck it up, she looked across the room and straight at Angus.
Angus froze in place, doing his best to be just another Shifter looking to relieve boredom in this backwoods casino.
Tamsin wasn’t fooled. The eyes that met Angus’s told him she’d already seen him, recognized him for Shifter, and knew why he was here. Her eyes were a hazel shade, the light over the table showed him, almost golden, the color of whisky. Her faint scent came to him over the stench of humans and smoke— warm, like nutmeg.
Tamsin stuffed double handfuls of cash into her pockets, at the same time moving back from the table on quick feet.
“Gotta go, boys. Thanks for the game.”
Two more strides, a flash of a grin over her shoulder, and she faded into the shadows.
Angus charged across the room after her. A heavy curtain hid the wall she’d run toward, and Angus jerked it back to find a window, wide- open and letting in the fog.
Angus scrambled through the window, jerking his bulk through the tight fit, and landed on the veranda that surrounded the house.
Mists flowed between him and the trees beyond, and there was no sound. Tamsin, her flame hair and nutmeg scent, had vanished.