Authors: D.B. Reynolds,
The next day found
urging her horse up the final rise to the top of a hill, and thinking ruefully that the pretty little bay mare probably didn’t need her help, or her urging. No doubt the horse was far more familiar with this trail than
She’d been impressed earlier with Lucas’s stable of horses. For that matter, she’d been impressed with his
had been raised with money and privilege, and most of her friends growing up had been likewise fortunate. When she’d told Kathryn she’d had riding lessons all through her youth, she’d been telling the truth. She’d been taught by the very best
at the most exclusive stables that California and, ultimately, Europe, had to offer.
But even with that background, Lucas’s stables were amongst the finest she’d seen, especially in private hands. Horses weren’t cheap, not to feed, not to stable, and not to care for. But it was obvious that Lucas did all three and spared no expense.
Robbie suddenly surged past her on the right. He was riding a monster of a beast, a chestnut gelding who was at least eighteen hands tall and with fire in his eye. But then, Robbie was a big guy, so nothing smaller would suit. He was also, as it turned out, a damned good rider and seemed to relish the challenge the horse presented. Horse and rider both appeared to be grinning when they raced past her.
grinned back. Lucas’s lands were meant for riding, with lots of wide, well-groomed trails that were kept clear of obstacles. She supposed in the deep part of winter, with the snow up to everyone’s ass, the trails were less reliable. But as far as she was concerned, only a masochist would venture out in that kind of weather, anyway. As it was, the afternoon’s early December temperatures were pushing her boundaries of reasonable comfort, though even she had to admit the sun felt good on her face and the air was cold and fresh.
She leaned forward and patted her mount on the neck. “Don’t you worry about those silly boys, sweetheart,” she soothed. “They’ll stub a toe, and then they’ll be crying like the big babies they are.”
you have such a high opinion of men?” Kathryn asked, coming up behind her at a more sedate pace than Robbie’s headlong dash.
“Of course, he knows. But then, as he’s always pointing out to me, he’s not a man.”
Kathryn laughed, as they rode side by side up over the rise and paused on the ridge line. “It is lovely here, isn’t it?” she asked, looking back over the rolling expanse of snow-dappled hills.
“Except for the cold.”
Kathryn scoffed. “Honey, you
seen cold. It’ll be up to our asses in a month.”
“Exactly what I was thinking.
But I thought this was your first winter here.”
“Yeah, but I’ve visited the Minneapolis office enough times to know. Only for Lucas would I live here. I’m a Southern girl.”
“Lucky for me, Raphael hates the cold as much as I do.”
spotted Robbie heading back toward her across the wide, flat top of the ridge. She stood in her stirrups to shout at him, and had just sucked in her breath to do so, when the unmistakable crack of a long range rifle shot shattered the peace of the day, and had both her and Kathryn diving for the ground.
Robbie roared as he flew across the plateau. He jumped from the saddle before the big horse had even come a full stop, too much of a warrior not to have his rifle in hand as he crouched low and ran to where
was scooting along the snow-covered ground, heading for the protection of a small cluster of good-sized rocks. “God
it,” he swore as he grabbed her on the fly and half-carried
rest of the way. Kathryn was already nearly there, having been closer when the shooting started. Robbie reached out now to snag her jacket and drag her behind the largest of the rocks.
“I counted two shots,”
said, pulling her
from its shoulder holster and wishing she had something with better range.
“Rifle,” Kathryn confirmed. “Long range, probably—” She risked a quick peek and ducked back. “—the next hill over, those trees.”
“What do you think, Robbie?”
The big Ranger shrugged out of his dark-colored parka, leaving him in nothing but a long-sleeved, off-white thermal Henley. Rolling to one side, he squirmed down into the snow and slipped the barrel of his Remington M24 around the side of the rocks.
“Want me to put some snow on your head,”
whispered, only half-facetiously.
. I can’t take you anywhere.”
“Maybe he was shooting at you!” she hissed.
his eye and his focus now on whatever he was seeing through the scope of his rifle. Eventually, he pulled the gun back, rolled over and sat up.
“I think you’re right about where it came from,” he told Kathryn, “but the shooter’s gone. Probably saw his chance, took the shot, and then ran for it, maybe without even waiting to see what he’d hit.”
“This can’t be a coincidence,”
said. “First we’re tagged from the airport, and now someone’s shooting at us.”
“Yeah, but why us?
You and I can’t influence the damn challenges,” Kathryn said angrily.
snorted. “Unless we die,” she said dryly. “When a vampire’s mate dies, it’s a devastating blow. Maybe they’re targeting you and me to get to Lucas and Raphael.”
Kathryn blushed hotly, her already cold-pinked cheeks getting even redder. She shot Robbie an
glance. “Um, Lucas and I aren’t actually mated yet.”
a meaningful stare. He clearly thought she was the target because her death would definitely hurt Raphael badly. Maybe even make him skip the Council meeting. She had to admit the evidence seemed to point that way, if Kathryn and Lucas weren’t mated. Sure, Lucas would mourn her death, but it wouldn’t hurt him the way the loss of a mate would. Of course, that assumed the shooter
they weren’t mated, and besides, there were other reasons for shooting someone. It didn’t
to be related to vampire politics.
“Who hates you enough to try to kill you?” she asked Kathryn, avoiding the whole mating issue. “Any big FBI busts you’ve been involved in lately?”
Kathryn frowned. “Not really. I honestly don’t do that much field work, and when I do it’s mostly white collar stuff.”
“I thought terrorism was the big issue these days.”
“It is, but even there, my involvement is more in the way of tracing financial transactions, following the paper trails, not hunting down bad guys. Most of the people we arrest wouldn’t even know I was involved.”
“No offense, but it sounds pretty boring. You have skills. When this is all over, I think we should talk.”
Robbie groaned loudly. “I don’t want to hear this.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. You think it’s safe to stick our heads up?”
He grabbed his jacket and dug into a pocket, pulling out a pair of compact, but extremely powerful military-issue binocs. Propping himself higher, he began a systematic search.
“You were a boy scout when you were little, weren’t you?”
“Babe, I was never little,” he said, without taking his eyes away from his search.
She smiled. “What do you see?”
“Snow, trees, rocks. Some grass. No bad guys.”
“What do you think?”
“I think I’m calling Steve
back at the house to let him know what happened, and that we’re coming in.”
?” Kathryn asked.
“Raphael’s head of daylight security.
Lucas must have one, too, right?”
Guy named John
. He’s probably at the homestead, since that’s where Lucas is, but I can give him a call.”
“Do that,” Robbie said. “
call him, too, but it’ll be good if he hears from you directly first.”
Kathryn nodded and punched a speed dial number on her phone, while Robbie did the same. Feeling somewhat superfluous—something she wasn’t used to in situations like this—
rolled into a crouch, and ignoring Robbie’s glare, she stood and made her way across the plateau to gather the horses. They weren’t happy about all the excitement, but she soothed them one at a time and brought them in.
Even Robbie’s monster gelding.
Robbie was off the phone and glowering at her. “What if I’d been wrong? What if that shooter had still been active?”
“If you’d really thought that, you’d have tackled me before I ever got up.”
He stared at her a long minute, then huffed a laugh. “Come on. Let’s get you back to Raphael before I get any grayer.”
* * * *
It was nearly dark by the time they returned to Lucas’s big house. They’d met Steve
and his security team halfway back. He’d detailed some of his team to continue on to the plateau and see what they could find in the little bit of light that was left. While the rest of the team had escorted the three of them back to the estate, which
thought was massive overkill. Whoever had fired on them was long gone, and a crappy shot to boot.
But she knew Raphael wouldn’t see it that way, and Robbie knew it, too. Raphael was powerful enough, and their bond was close enough, that even in his sleep, he’d have known that
was in danger. So when they made it back to the stable, she passed the mare’s reins to Robbie, slid to the ground and ran for the main house. She didn’t recognize the security guys on the outer perimeter, but
men were standing guard closer in, and two of them were waiting for her at the front door.
She smiled as she ran past, hurrying down the hallway to the elevator. She entered the code and stepped inside, slipping through the doors downstairs before they were fully open and rolling onto the bed just as Raphael opened his eyes and reached for her. She laughed as he tumbled her beneath him and efficiently stripped away her clothing until he had inspected almost every inch of her.
“I’m fine,” she said, reaching up to smooth his hair away from his forehead.
“I see that,” he purred, dipping down to nuzzle the side of her neck. “You smell like horse.”
“I think they were aiming at Kathryn, not me.”
He lifted his head. “That would have been small comfort if you’d been the one shot.”
He stared down at her, meeting her eyes, and then smiled ruefully. “I’m beginning to think I’m the one who should apologize to you. I’ve brought this violence into your life.”
“Raphael,” she said, letting everything she felt for him flood the link between them, “I love our life together. I love
. Without you, I’d still be sneaking around taking pictures of cheating spouses and probably end up getting shot anyway as a prowler. I’d much rather spend my life with you, no matter the risks. I love you,” she repeated.
He kissed her then, his lips moving over hers in a sensuous caress as he pressed his hips between her thighs. There was no foreplay, no preparation, just his cock, familiar in its weight and thickness, in the velvet stroke of it as he pushed deep inside her with a single thrust. She was wet and ready for him, had been ready from the moment he’d rolled her beneath him. She hungered for him always, for his touch, his heat, the spark of silver in his eyes, the deep growl of his voice.