Coming soon! Otherworld Protector by will be available Dec 1, 2015.
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About the Author
Jane writes paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne and thrillers for Harlequin Romantic Suspense. She lives in England and loves to travel to European cities which are steeped in history and romance. Venice, Dubrovnik and Vienna are among her favourites. Jane is married to a lovely man and mum to two grown up children.
Read an Excerpt
Stella Fallon was in the process of discovering that there is nothing so hysteria inducing as the realization that you have given up your job and traveled to a new country, spending every penny of your savings in the process, in pursuit of a dream that doesn't exist. Okay, so it had been a crap job. And the savings had just about covered her plane ticket. As she stared up at the vast crumbling mansion, these extenuating circumstances did not provide Stella with one single morsel of comfort. If the house was emptyand it certainly looked that wayshe was officially homeless, jobless and, once she had paid the taxi fare, had exactly one hundred euros to her name.
"This is the right house, senorita. For sure." The driver repeated the statement he had made a few minutes earlier. While his tone was patient, his eyes were wary as they met hers in the rearview mirror. Possibly he could sense her rising panic. He might even have been cursing the fact that, from the long line of eager tourists and experienced businessmen waiting for taxis at the airport that night, he was the one who ended up with this quirky-looking girl. Whatever his emotions might be, he was clearly fearful of not getting his cash and impatient at being kept waiting now that he had delivered her to her destination.
"It can't be." Although the driver had spoken in Spanish, she responded in English and he made a helpless, uncomprehending gesture. Stella corrected her mistake. "No es posible."
"Si. This is the address you gave me. La Casa Oscura" he gestured into the pitch-blackness beyond the car windows "it is well-known in this city."
La Casa Oscura. The Dark House. Except it shouldn't be dark. According to the emails Stella had received, it should be lit up in welcome for her. Or, if "lit up" might be construed as an overenthusiastic approach to greeting a new junior employee, there should at least have been some sign of life. There was none.
"You want me to take you to a hotel in the city center for tonight? That way you can come back in the morning. Check the place out in daylight."
The suggestion made sense, and Stella was about to dent her precious hundred euros further and agree. That was when she felt it. Felt him. There was the familiar flicker of movement on the outer edge of her vision. She knew from experience there was no point in trying to capture it. He existed only on the periphery. Looking directly at him would cause him to disappear. But it was enough. Well-being, warm, mellow and welcome flooded her veins. Her protector was here.
"No." Taking out her wallet, she counted out the right number of notes for the fare and added a tip.
"I can wait here until you are inside," the driver offered as he pocketed the money. Stella could almost see him assessing the possibility of being featured as the bad guy in the following day's tabloid headlines.
Cabbie abandoned lone Brit-girl tourist at death house, saying "I wanted my supper!"
"I'll be fine," Stella assured him and he shrugged a doubtful shoulder. She could hardly explain her newfound bravado to him. As she clambered out of the car, juggling her backpack and laptop case, the driver hauled her wheeled suitcase out of the trunk. With a final glance over his shoulder and shrug, he returned to the car. Stella waited for him to drive off before she turned to look up at the house. The darkness here on the hillside above the city was so allencompassing that what she saw was the outline of the hulking building and none of its detail. First impressions were everything, and this one definitely didn't feel comforting.
Although the house itself, like its name, was cloaked in obscurity, there was enough light from the street lamps for Stella to make her way unhindered through the vast wrought-iron gates. Thoughts of medieval prisons and torture chambers sprang into her mind. All useful ideas for future game projects, she assured herself, making a mental note. Her feet crunched onto a gravel drive. This, in turn, opened out onto a large, paved square and Stella noticed, with a feeling of profound relief, that there were several cars and motorbikes parked to one side of this area. In the darkness, she could not distinguish makes or models. One of the cars was definitely low-slung, sleek and probably expensive. Moncoya expensive? At the very least, the cars were evidence that the house might not be an abandoned ruin, after all.
Stella commenced a crab-like gaitdragging the huge suitcase, backpack and laptop bagacross the square to the house. As she did, her movements triggered a series of blindingly bright, fluorescent floodlights. It was surreal. If she looked up, would she see a hovering UFO? Or would she be surrounded by armed guards, dressed in black uniforms emblazoned with the gold Moncoya Enterprises M, and made to lie facedown on the ground while they searched her luggage for signs that she was a spy for a rival company?
Reminding herself that a fertile imagination was a necessity, not a liability, in her line of work, Stella continued up to the now clearly visible front door. This was a huge, green-painted structure, set within a vast facade of faded terra-cotta stone. The floodlights cast an eerie gloom that made the house appear to be suspended in space.
Stella didn't quite know what she had expected. Relocation to Senor Moncoya's Barcelona residencia will be a requirement of the post. That was what the email had said. Since she'd have agreed to anythingRelocation to the moon? Where do I sign?for a job with Moncoya, she hadn't really thought this bit through. Story of your life, she told herself as she pressed the bell next to the front door. No wonder that peripheral protector of yours has to work overtime.
The door was opened, notas a tiny part of her had hopedby Ezra Moncoya himself, but by a grungy-looking youth with dreadlocks and a beard that was plaited.
"You must be Stella," he said, throwing the door wide as he grabbed her suitcase and laptop bag. "We've been expecting you."
As she stepped across the doorstep into the vast white-and-chrome foyer, Stella knew her first impression had been wrong. She was in the most right place she had ever been.
Cal watched as Stella stepped over the doorstep of La Casa Oscura and the door closed behind her. As if the house itself was swallowing her up. He chided himself for the overimaginative foolishness of such thoughts. He had always known that this time would comehad known it since a time long before Stella's birth. This precise moment was the reason he had taken the assignment, even though watching over mortals was beneath him in so many ways. Nevertheless, he had to take a moment to wonder at the staggering recklessness of his charge. Unlike Cal, Stella had no idea of who she was, of either her lineage or her destiny. So surely a little bit of caution would not have gone amiss in the circumstances.
He smiled reminiscently. She had always been the same. Even from the earliest age, the little girl with the spiky blue-black hair and wide green eyes had been a trouble magnet, hurling herself from one dangerous situation to the next with a bring-it-on fist pump and a grin. Her behavior had been so far outside Cal's expectations that, on Stella's sixth birthday, he had sought an audience to request advice on the matter.
"Never doubt the gravity of what lies ahead. For her or for you." The Dominion, one of the leading angels of the fourth choir, had worn the traditional long gown, hitched with a golden belt. As a symbol of the seriousness in which he held his task of regulating the duties of lower angels, he had carried a golden staff in his right hand and the seal of his office in his left. Although Cal was easily equal in rank and power to the Dominion, by that time he had been fighting on the side of the angels for so long he always felt slightly overawed by such overt symbols of celestial authority. "When you joined us, you were handed the most demanding of tasks. Now, through this girl, yours is the responsibility for ensuring that peace is restored so that the border between the living realm and Otherworld remains intact."
"I understand and have gladly accepted the burden you placed upon me. It is just" Cal had thought back to the escapade that had prompted him to request this meeting. It hadn't been that bad, he had reasoned. No one had been injured. The truck driver should have known better than to leave his vehicle unlocked with the keys in the ignition. And who'd have thought the skinny little girl Stella had been back then would have been able to get the hand brake off anyway? "I had not anticipated that a major part of my role would be to keep her alive until the prophecy can be fulfilled."
"You must do whatever it takes," the Dominion had assured him with a dignity that befitted his position.
So he had. What he hadn't known then was how much he would enjoy it. Even now, nineteen years after the "do whatever it takes" conversation with the Dominion, Cal still found Stella's cheeky grin irresistible. He'd broken a few rules along the way. They both had. There had been occasions when he'd had no choice but to materialize to help her out. It wasn't exactly forbidden, it was just not recommended. Distance was the key to a successful relationship between protector and charge. The difference for them was that, unlike other mortals, Stella was conscious of Cal's presence even when he didn't appear before her in human form. That caused him some anxiety. She should not have been aware of him, of course. That wasn't normal. But Stella was not an ordinary charge. And he had just watched his far-from-average charge walk into the situation he had dreaded since the day she was born.
The time had come. The prophecy was about to be realized at last. While the coming change in their relationship saddened him, Cal's fighting spirit was roused by the prospect of action. This moment signaled the transformation they had all been waiting for. Casting a glance heavenward at the unusual formation streaking the sky with its three golden tails, he moved through the thick terra-cotta wall and followed his charge into La Casa Oscura. Oras it was known throughout OtherworldMoncoya's lair.
"This place is amazing." Stella placed her backpack down and turned in a circle to get the full effect. The faded beauty of the neoclassical facade she had glimpsed outside was in complete contrast to the stark modernity of the interior. The entire lower floor of La Casa Oscura was one vast, open-plan room and the whole of the rear wall was glass, affording a soaring, dramatic view across the nighttime city. At opposite right angles to this, another full wall was taken up with rows of computers and games consoles, each of which was linked to its own enormous plasma screen. Circular seating islands had been created at random intervals, breaking up the white-tiled floor space. In one corner, there was a sensory area with bubble tubes, soft lighting andStella noted as she completed her twirltwo men asleep on large beanbags. A shelf lined with hundreds of glass jars, filled with every kind of sweet, cookie and candy imaginable, sat alongside a soft drinks machine. It was a grown-up playroom.
The man who had opened the door to Stella nodded his agreement and gestured to the drinks machine.
"Get you something? I'm Diego, by the way."
Stella accepted a bottle of chilled water gratefully. "Do you live here?"
Diego snorted. "Only the privileged few get to actually stay here in la casa. The rest of us drop by when there is a big project to work on or a deadline to be met." He nodded in the direction of the sleeping men. "Thirty-six hours straight. We've been trying to iron out a kink in a new games title. Just about cracked it. Some people can't take the pace. So you're the crowd fund girl Moncoya's been raving about."
Stella felt a blush tinge her cheeks. Moncoya and raving were not words she ever thought to hear put together and then applied to her. It was the stuff of every gamer's fantasy. "Is he here?" She tried not to sound too eager.
"Moncoya? He doesn't greet new employees in person, you know."
Her enthusiasm popped like bubble gum on a pin. Of course he didn't. How stupid of her to ask. Just as she was about to stammer out an apology for her foolishness, the front door opened and, with perfect timing, Ezra Moncoya walked in. Even if Stella had not spent an obsessive amount of time doing internet searches for her new employer over the past week, she would have known him anywhere. Let's face it, she thought, looking into the most unusual eyes she had ever seen, unless you had lived as a hermit in a remote cave for the past twenty years, you could not fail to recognize Ezra Moncoya. And to an aspiring games designer, Moncoya was a god. He had been Stella's idol for as long as she could remember. While the other girls in the children's home had pictures of boy bands on their bedroom walls, Stella had Moncoya advertising posters, snippets cut from magazines and game covers.
He was of less than average height with a slight build, but Moncoya's presence instantly filled the vast room. He wore evening dress, but managed to bring a touch of his unique flair to the conventional outfit. Tuxedo and trousers in midnight blue were perfectly contoured to his slender physique, and he wore a cravat in place of a bow tie. It was his face, however, that drewno, commandedStella's attention. It was a face that graced the cover of thousands of electronics periodicals as well as the gossip pages of every international newspaper and magazine. Moncoya's chiseled beauty was legendary, almost as well-known as his sexual prowess, but nothing had prepared Stella for the reality of the man. How had she reached the age of twenty-five without knowing you really could have your breath taken away by the presence of another human being? Moncoya ran a hand through his signature mane of tousled, morning-after hair, its highlights ranging from honey gold to caramel. The diamond studs in his ears caught the light. Until that instant Stella would have laughed if someone had told her she could find a man who wore black nail polish and blue eyeliner attractive.
It was those eyes that drew her in and captured her, she decided. Bluer than a summer evening, the irises were edged with gold as if encircled by fire. The effect was devastating. Once you looked into Moncoya's eyes, you couldn't look away. Not even if your life depended on it. She shook the foolish, intrusive thought away.
It didn't seem to concern Moncoya in the slightest that Diego, after an initial blink of shock at his employer's entrance, had faded away, leaving them alone. Or that, without the benefit of an introduction, a girl he had never met was gazing at him in spellbound silence across a distance of several feet. A slight smile touched his lips and he moved forward, holding out both hands.
"Stella Fallon. You are everything I hoped you would be." It seemed a strange comment since, in those few seconds, she had no way of demonstrating the abilities for which he had hired her. Such was the force of his personality that she took the outstretched hands. The oddest feeling, like a slight electric shock, shimmered from her fingertips then tingled throughout her whole body at his touch.
Get a grip, Stella. He probably has this effect on women all the time. Stella collected herself with some difficulty. "Senor Moncoya, I want to thank you "