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Authors: Anya Breton

Guarded Heart

BOOK: Guarded Heart
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Guarded Heart

Anya
Breton

 

Someone is trying to kill high
priest Morgan Seaton, but the last person he wants protecting him is
people-hater Brook Calder—a fellow Water witch from his youth. He values the
witches of his coven too much to put them in danger from her
shoot-first-ask-questions-later methods. But the head of Neptune’s Rangers
assures Morgan that Brook is the best of the best, so Morgan has no choice but
to accept help from the one witch he’s never been able to entice.

If they can stop giving into their
scorching desire everywhere—including the back of a limo or the bathroom
floor—he might survive long enough to find out who wants him dead.

A Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

 

Guarded Heart
Anya Breton

 

Chapter One

 

After several hours locked in a floating
tin can with screeching kids, falsely smiling flight attendants and braggarts
with Oompa-Loompa tans, Brook should have been happier to be on land. Maybe it
was a good thing airlines didn

t
allow stun guns in carryons. She

d
come a long way since her youth, but sometimes it was hard to rein in her
aggressive urges. Long flights certainly put her to the test.

Brook tugged her duffel bag onto her shoulder and started
for the guys in black waiting at the door to the baggage claim. The chauffeur
holding the sign printed with her surname cleared his throat when she pointed
at it. The inward jerking she sensed over her empathy net was the marker of
both his surprise and confusion.

“B. Calder?” he asked.

“Yes.

“I’m sorry.” He rubbed a hand through his hair. “It’s just
that I was told to pick up a
Mister
Calder.”

Brook stared until he relented and showed her to the
appropriate door. A white limousine idled at the curb, a second driver waiting
inside. The original chauffeur opened the door with little fanfare. She shot a
cursory glance within the luxurious space as she did a scan of the males’
intentions on the empathy net.

All clear.

She got inside, attention splitting. The males in the front
seat could attack at any moment. As could those in the cars around them on the
two-lane road. But her phone messages were also important.

During the final flight, her boss Kyle had sent a note with
the tracking numbers for the overnight delivery of her weapons. She wouldn’t
feel comfortable again until her stun gun and handguns were safely affixed to
her body. They protected more than her clients. They protected her peace of
mind, even if she rarely had reason to use them.

Though Lake Michigan

s
calming water was to her right, the trip along the interstate emphasized her
bleak mood. In her opinion Gary, Indiana, was a dump. What might have been a
bustling metropolis decades ago in the booming age of steel now looked like
something out of the zombie apocalypse. It could have been worse. She could
have been sent to Detroit.

Twenty minutes of travel time was enough to file her
messages into the appropriate folders. The car pulled to a stop in front of a
beige two-story beach house with a conspicuous burgundy door. Filmy blue
curtains that were too delicate to be considered masculine covered the windows.
That had better not be a hint of what she’d find inside.

Brook had been sent to protect the newly ascended high
priest of the Great Lakes Region from an unknown assailant. Her boss hadn’t
given her a name. In the mad rush to get a Ranger to the area, Kyle hadn’t
explained anything about the Water witch client apart from the knowledge
someone had attempted to kill him in a very public way. If this was the
priest’s house—with its banks of easily broken windows—then Brook had her work
cut out for her. But challenges made a Ranger’s job interesting.

A lovely woman with long mahogany hair greeted Brook at the
front door. The female’s flushed pink lips, soft cheeks and straight nose made
her the spitting image of Cameron Diaz. Dark hair featuring salon-bought cherry
highlights as well as the strange celadon color of her irises proved she was
someone unique rather than the actress.

Those eyes scanned critically over Brook before flicking up
to her face. Brook drew in the scent of fresh water off the woman while
simultaneously measuring the press of her power.

Not a woman at all. Like Brook, the female scrutinizing her
on the porch was a Water witch. Similarly, like Brook, the female wasn’t
priestess material but she was definitely an Adept.

Given the confusion at the airport, Brook felt the need to
introduce herself properly. “I’m Brook Calder.

“There must be some mistake,” the female said in a pitch
that made Brook’s voice sound masculine. She lifted her nose, looking down on
Brook. “We called for the best Ranger available.”

Brook stared rather than point out that not only was she the
best Ranger available or
unavailable
, but she’d also been pulled off an
assignment in the Sierra Nevadas to come
here
. Their dueling empathic
links would do all the communicating for her.

The female took a step back from the door and surveyed Brook

s scuffed boots. “Come inside until we
can get this sorted.”

There was nothing to sort. Brook was the best of Neptune’s
Rangers. Period.

Nevertheless, the Cameron Diaz look-alike produced a slim
smartphone from her pocket and searched through her list of contacts. Framed in
the living room that was a curious hodgepodge of updated stone floors and
undulating retro glass block walls, the female appeared at home in her smart
skirt suit and prim ponytail.

Brook tossed her bag to her feet, leaning her
T-shirt-covered back against the now closed front door. She dropped her arms to
her sides where she could easily get to her weapons…despite their conspicuous
absence. Hopefully they would arrive before the day was out.

“This is Mira Fontaine from the Great Lakes Region office,”
the woman said to whomever was on the other end of the call. “I need to speak
to Master Destan right away.”

Brook got comfortable. Kyle’s assistant Judy would probably
have to fetch him from the bathroom or perhaps a meeting. Mira shifted her
weight onto her narrow right hip. Then onto her left. And then back again by
the time Kyle reached the phone.

“Master Destan,” the snooty female said with a measure of
impatience Kyle hadn

t earned.
“There seems to have been some confusion. We requested your best Ranger to
assist us with the matter of the regional high priest’s safety but a female has
just arrived.”

Brook lifted her head until she stared at the blemishes in
the otherwise pristine white plaster ceiling. No doubt Kyle relayed tales of
her skill and numerous successes to the snob. The female’s frustration lifted
with each second that passed—an emotion Brook clearly felt without need of an
empathic link. It nearly made her smile.

“But…t-the Ranger you s-sent…is a
female
.”

Brook’s eyebrows lifted at that. Generally it was the
priests who complained about a Ranger’s gender, not their female assistants.

No doubt Kyle reminded Mira females were once the majority
in their faction—that only the last century had seen a leveling out in the
birth rates between males and females. It was Witch History 101 no one should
have had to explain to Ms. Mira Fontaine.

“You have no males,” Mira said with increasing anxiety.

Kyle had males. But Brook was the best.

Mira gave a suffering sigh. Subsequent words of false
gratitude preceded her ending the call.

Brook continued her perusal of the ceiling until she was
given an apology.

“This way,” Mira said.

The female’s rude behavior was filed away in Brook’s memory
bank.

Brook hauled her bag up again and followed Mira through the
twenties-era beach house. They walked past a renovated modern kitchen, a formal
breakfast room and a small guest room. Their destination was a closed
white-painted door with a heavy brass knob.

Mira knocked twice on the thick wood. The entrance of what
was surely a home office opened, revealing a gentleman sporting khaki slacks
and a blue polo shirt stretched over his slim frame. Silver and white threaded
his nearly black hair, giving him a dignified air. His cool gray eyes measured
Brook much as Mira’s had. They returned to her face.

A small smile formed on his thin lips. “You must be Ranger
Calder. Please, come in.”

His neutral tone and the steady emotions on her empathy net
told Brook nothing. Though a more powerful magical signature emanating from the
office was from someone hidden around the corner, Brook assumed this male in
his middle age was the regional high priest she’d been called to protect. He
carried himself like a man with power—like a man who was used to getting his
way.

Brook stretched out her hand in a professional gesture. He
grasped her palm in his as soon as she was near enough to touch. His squeeze
was just on the edge of painful as if an attempt to prove his might. The
empathic link he tried to engage while he had her skin against his told her
even more about him.

This one likes control.

Brook stepped into the sunlit office, tossing off his
magical link as she moved. A bank of broad windows opened to the lake view. The
vista was vast and blue—a truly beautiful sight but foolishly unsafe given
their recent attack.

She tore her gaze away from the windows, focusing on the
furniture in front of her. A person’s working environment said a lot about him.

This one was messy with haphazard stacks of papers and books
scattered along the white furniture. Countless little colored flags stuck out
from between the pages of tomes large and small. Sticky notes hung at irregular
intervals on every flat surface and some that weren’t. But the space had a
homey, lived-in feel thanks to a half-opened box of donuts on a side table, an
open sketchpad on the desk and fresh flowers springing from sedate vases.

It wasn’t any of these things that snared Brook’s attention
repeatedly. The male seated at a small round table in the far left corner had
that honor.

He was clad in a button-down white shirt with blue, green
and gray plaid, his sky-blue irises popping against the dull colors. Defined
cheeks framed a straight nose and cleanly shaved masculine jaw. Though his
brows were brown, his hair was anything but. The golden locks were styled in
messy waves over his forehead then shorn close to his head on the sides and
back…a lot like Brook’s own hairstyle. But it was those eyes that caught her
notice more than once.

There was something almost familiar about them.

The blue eyes swept up and down Brook three times before
widening and then ultimately narrowing. A smooth baritone voice burst from his
peach-hued lips. “Brook Lochlan?”

Brook swallowed down a quick shot of unease. She hadn’t been
Brook Lochlan for six years. When her absent father had died, she’d waited the
necessary year of mourning and then she’d filed for a legal change of name.

How did
this
male know her?

“Brook Calder,” she said with a chilly delivery.

“By Neptune!” He smashed a hand through his unruly locks and
then dismissed her, focusing on the older male waiting by the door. “No. This
will not do at all. If we must have someone, then find someone else.”

Brook’s jeans, pixie-cut hair and masculine mannerisms meant
she was rarely treated like a lady. Instead, she was often treated like one of
the boys. Her possession of respectable B-cup breasts and lips that were a
little too plump to be male meant she also didn’t trip a male’s need to challenge
a rival.

What did
this
male find wrong with her?

Brook cast a look over her shoulder at the older male.
“Shouldn’t the priest make his own decision?”

“The priest
has
,” the younger individual said.

Her gaze snapped forward.
This
male—this blond who
couldn’t have been older than thirty-two—was the Great Lakes Region high
priest?

“I asked for the best to be sent,” the older male said.

The blond jabbed a long finger toward Brook. “This female
would sooner punch an innocent for looking at her wrong than wait for their
intentions to become clear.”

Brook fought a visible reaction. She was perhaps the most
cynical Ranger in Neptune’s Fellowship but she didn’t act violently without
cause. And those few times she hadn’t had enough evidence to prove someone’s
guilt, Neptune had seen fit to provide it soon after she’d acted against them.

So just
who
was this priest who thought he knew her?

She examined the male’s face, noting the planes and ridges
of his features once more. He was handsome, as most witches were. His compact
build and honey skin weren’t anything special in their race. But those
eyes…those eyes were familiar.

“I can’t work with her,” the blond said. “I won’t be
responsible for the damage she causes in the name of protecting me. And I don’t
need a blasted bodyguard.”

The pieces of the strange puzzle finally fell into place.
“By the great blue sea.” She took a step forward. “Morgan Seaton.”

He lifted his chin and sniffed once. It was all the answer
she needed.

This was surely some manner of karmic torture, having to
help
Morgan Seaton
—a male she’d saved from his own his foolish
ingenuousness nearly every vacation she’d spent at her mother’s beach house.

“No. I won’t work for him.” She readjusted the duffel bag
strap over her shoulder as she twisted toward the door. “Find someone else.”

“Ranger Calder,” the older man called after her. “They said
you were the best.”

“I am the best.” She continued past Mira, who was smirking
in the corridor. “But some people are unprotectable.”

Soles tapping on the floor implied the older male followed.

“Please come back, Ranger Calder,” he said. “We need to call
the Rangers’ office together to sort out this misunderstanding.”

Her boss would be miffed if she took off without giving
word. She’d stay for as long as it would take Morgan Seaton to formally fire
her. Then she’d get her itinerary for the return trip. Perhaps this time she
could get a layover someplace with a nice pool.

Just a few minutes pain longer before she’d be on her way
out of this little dump with lake access.

 

Morgan would recognize those plump lips and that disaffected
glare anywhere. Though Brook had filled out her lanky body in the eight years
since he’d last seen her, she was still the curmudgeon he’d known since he was
six. Marriage certainly hadn’t softened her prickly demeanor.

BOOK: Guarded Heart
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