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Authors: April Zyon

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She turned her gaze when she
heard movement and saw two impossibly large men walking into the area.
Holy crap, they’re huge … and, wow,
The men were beyond handsome, and she found herself wanting to
reach out and touch the larger one with dark hair. He looked yummy.

His head turned, and their eyes
met, clashing even in the distance. He stopped dead in his tracks. His friend
kept moving and talking, then turned after a few feet before coming back to
him. The other man glanced back and forth between her and her dream guy.

The taller one shook his head
after a moment and frowned at whatever his friend was saying. The expression
quickly turned into a menacing look that the slightly shorter man seemed to
take as a hint, because he jogged off. But he was laughing as he did so, loud
enough she could hear him clearly. Then the taller one came toward her, slowly,
as if he were stalking her, his gaze intent on her as he approached with
long-legged strides.

“Uh, hello?” she said when the
man stopped practically between her knees. “Do you mind?” She put her hand on
his chest, then bit her lower lip.
balls, he’s hard as granite.
The electrical shock that moved from her
fingers and up her arms unnerved her in a way that nothing ever had before.
Even the first time she was praised for her writing she hadn’t felt this
amazing, this out-of-body good.

“Not at all,” he said. It took
her a few seconds to figure out what he was talking about. Then she recalled
her question to him. “As long as you keep petting me, I don’t mind at all.
Though a name wouldn’t be amiss, little one.”

“I meant do you mind backing up,
please? And it’s Vivian.” She suddenly felt ill. She shouldn’t be there alone.
“I should go—” She swallowed hard. “I should go because my husband is waiting.”
Oh, I’m such a liar. I have no husband,
boyfriend, hell, even lover.
“I just
you to move, please?”

“I’ll move as soon as you admit
you don’t have a husband,” he said quietly, though he did step back a little,
his eyes never leaving hers. “Be truthful, Vivian, and I’ll get out of your
way. I should warn you, though, I
look for you again while I’m in town. And I hope I see you again.”

“I don’t.” She felt her stomach
turning. But her hand once more moved of its own accord to his chest. She found
herself needing to touch him and wanting to be closer to him even as her mind
warned her of the potential danger. She didn’t understand it at all.

“I’m not here to hurt you, or
anyone else, Vivian,” he said, correctly interpreting her wide-eyed gaze. “My
partner and I are investigating a string of murders to see if they connect with
some other murders we’ve been working on.” He took another step back, then one
to the side. “As promised,” he added.

“Thank you,” she said, even
though she wanted so badly to move in closer to him again. She mourned the loss
of the man before her. “So, are you police? Are you detectives? What are you?”
she asked when she could think clearly again. The men didn’t look like police
officers or detectives, but what did she know?

“Private investigators,” he
answered. “We do jobs that either the local law enforcement is under-manned
for, or that other agencies are spread too thin to cover. We tend to take the
bizarre ones that leave most scratching their heads. Jason, by the way,” he
introduced himself, holding out a hand.

She took a breath and sighed.
“So, you guys are going to figure out why the young woman was killed? Because I
have to tell you that I’m scratching my head on this. I’m honestly terrified.
The cops have no idea how or why. And if they’ve figured out a connection
between the victims, they aren’t saying.”

“At the moment, we are, but if
it turns out not to be the killer we’re after, we’ll have to turn our
information over to the police and leave it to them. We have to remain on our
current job, unless we’re asked to assist, which rarely happens.” He dropped
his hand and stuck it in his pocket, then dug into another and held out a card
with a number and nothing else. “I should get back to my friend and see what
he’s come up with. I hope to see you again, Vivian. Be careful out there,
little one.”

Viv watched the man as he walked
away. She felt

bereft. She took a deep breath and headed to her car. Once
more, she looked over her shoulder at the men and gave a small wave to the one
whose touch she craved. And crave she did, desperately.

* * * *

The latest murder was much like
the two previous. This time, it was a young woman again. Considering one of the
victims had been a man, that particular detail didn’t give them anything new to
go on. The age range, though, might be the key—the first, second, and third
victims had all been in their early twenties. Unfortunately, that was a large
number of the population and didn’t seem to help them narrow down what was
going on.

The only plus from this one was
the fact that it was recent. The other two had been a week and a half, and five
days before their arrival, respectively. With the current scene, they were able
to get more information, as it was still marked up and freshly taped off.

After Vivian had left, Jason’d
had to endure some harassment from James. Nothing new there. It had hurt to
watch her leave, and he’d had to fight himself from chasing her down. Somehow,
he’d resisted the urge. Not as easy as he’d assumed it would be, though.

They’d photographed the area,
taken some samples, and found some evidence that suggested it wasn’t a human killer.
They would have to wait on the results from what he’d shipped back to the
Mountain, but he was pretty sure the latest had been an attack by an evil one.

Back at their hotel, he’d
showered and changed clothing. Now all he could do was pace around his suite.
He should have gotten her number. She was important to him. He knew it. He just
didn’t know why.

Closing his eyes, he sucked in a
breath as he remembered her scent. It was fresh, airy, with a hint of bite to
it. Her red hair, though, was what had caught his eye in the park. When they’d
arrived there, he’d felt something from the medallion under his rib cage. It
had seemed to hum, almost. Or maybe
was a better word for it.

The vibrations had grown
stronger the closer to the park he and James had walked. Once they’d broken
through the tree line, her hair had caught his attention. Then it was all
downhill from there. He’d been unable to stop himself from moving toward her,
needing to be close to her in an almost desperate way.

James had bugged him until he’d
noticed her, too. He’d teased Jason about the fact she didn’t look his type.
James was right there, and yet, so very wrong. Vivian was built as a woman
should be, with curves and a roundness to her hips that proclaimed her all

He’d walked right up to her,
invaded her personal space even, then came to a shuddering halt when she’d
touched him. Even now, pressing his hand to the spot, he nearly moaned aloud.
He could still feel the gentle pressure of her fingers and the warmth of her skin.
Had he not wanted to miss a moment of seeing her that first time, he might have
closed his eyes to enjoy it more, but he couldn’t. Not then.

In that instant, he’d needed to
absorb everything about her—the soft curl of her dark red hair, the sculpted features
of her face, and hazel eyes that seemed to war between green and brown. She had
soft-looking skin that he wanted to touch. It was pale, with a hint of a tan to
it, and a smattering of light freckles were sprinkled over her nose and cheeks.

It made him wonder if she had
them other places—more interesting places—perhaps on her shoulders, chest, or
even the upper curve of her breasts.

His fists clenched as he
recalled the willpower he’d exerted to keep from reaching for her and yanking
her against him to feel the press of those glorious breasts. Even in the
clothing she’d worn to stay warm on the cool day, he could tell she was
generously proportioned.
Large enough to
fill a man’s hands.

Shoving his fingers through his
hair, he opened his eyes to peer out the window of his hotel room.
Damn it, Jason. Get a grip. She’s your soul
mate. You know she is. She’ll be drawn to you as much as you’re drawn to her.
Give her time. Modern women are independent and need to come to such
realizations on their own.

Not exactly what he wanted to
hear, even from his own head, but true, nonetheless. He had to be patient. It
wasn’t like in his time, when he could just grab her up and declare she was his
by right and might. With a strained laugh, he dropped his hands to his hips.
But I sure as hell wish I could
scoop her up, take her back to my place, and
tear her clothes off.

Biting back a groan, he paced
away from the window. The thought had him wondering if she had curls on her
mound the same shade as on her head, or if, like so many of her modern
counterparts, she kept it waxed.

He couldn’t bite back a moan at
that thought. All that pale skin, soft and bare, laid out before him. Now there
was an image that very well might kill him before he could find her again.

A knock sounded at the door. He
knew it was James, since they were going to have dinner down in the hotel
restaurant together.
Just great. The
man’s timing is impeccable.
Here he was, sporting an erection, and he had
to step out in public with another man. If that wasn’t enough to bruise even
impressive ego, Jason didn’t know
what would.

“Coming,” he hollered out.



Chapter Two


Since Vivian had met the man
from the park, she’d done nothing but think about him and their strange
encounter. She wanted to know what color his eyes were. She wanted to know what
color his hair was. She also wanted to touch him again. That was a surprise to
her. Viv had never felt that intensely for a man, ever.

She had bathed and thought of
him. She had done her preliminary write-up while having her contemplations turn
back to him time and time again. She wished she had asked his name. Instead she
had all but felt him up.

After realizing that she wasn’t
going to be able to get her mind in gear enough to actually work, she made her
call to her sister, then decided to go out to dinner. She needed food,
especially with as late as it already was. Then she would worry about
everything else. Right now, she wanted to forget about everything. She needed
to give her mind a break. Pulling her hair up into a braid, she grabbed her
keys and headed off.

Walking into the restaurant
twenty minutes later, she knew he was there. She didn’t know how she knew, but
she could feel it in every fiber of her being. Taking a slow look around, she
saw him as he stood. His attention was riveted on her.
What are the odds?

“Vivian,” he purred. “This is a
pleasant and unexpected surprise. What are you doing here?” He sported the
smallest of smiles on his lips.

Vivian moved toward the large
man and grinned. “I’m afraid that I forgot to ask you your name when we met
earlier.” The urge to touch him was back. She found she wanted to have him
How weird am I?

“I did give it to you, but you
were a bit distracted at the time. Jason,” he said, holding out his hand. He
watched her with a small amount of amusement on his face. “I don’t bite. Not
unless you ask. You can shake my hand, you know.”

Viv felt her cheeks heat, and
she shook her head. “Sorry. You must think I’m a complete idiot.” She held her
hand out as well and felt a rush when he took it.

“Not at all,” he told her. He
squeezed her fingers gently and tugged her a step closer to him. “If you’re
dining alone tonight, why don’t you come and join us? We just ordered
appetizers, so you have plenty of time to play catch up with us.”

“Are you sure?” Vivian looked
between Jason and the man with him. “I don’t want to intrude.” She smiled and
held out her hand to the second guy. “By the way, hello. I’m Vivian, and you

“James. A pleasure to meet you,
ma’am.” James shook her hand firmly, then let go. “It’s never any trouble to
have a pretty lady join the table. So, please. You were at the park earlier
today, weren’t you?” he asked in a slow, southern drawl. Jason held out a chair
for her.

Vivian nodded. “I was. I’m a
reporter, and I’d heard about the murders. Something doesn’t sit right with me.
I don’t do this sort of story, normally.” She shrugged as she took the chair
that had been offered. “So, I was looking in on it, but I didn’t get anywhere,
sadly. I’m just not made out for sleuthing, I think.”

“Maybe you’re just looking at it
the wrong way,” James said to her. Both he and Jason took their seats once she
was in her own. The waitress popped up then to ask her if she’d like a drink.

After placing her order, Viv
turned her gaze to James. “What do you mean?” She wanted to know what this
man’s thoughts were, because if there was another way to look at this, she was
more than willing to do just that. “What is it that I’m missing?” She propped
her chin on her fist, watching him with care.

“I mean that, maybe if you’re
getting nowhere banging into it head-on, you need to come at it from the side.
If the obvious doesn’t fit right, then maybe you need to look for what’s not
clearly obvious.” He grinned at her and shrugged. “I could tell you more, but
where’s the fun in that, ma’am?”

She laughed and sat back, her
stare once more falling on Jason, unable to move away from him for too long.
Before she could stop herself, she asked, “What color are your eyes? I’m
color-blind, and they intrigue me. They look like they’re caught between a
light and a dark color.” He was an utterly spectacular man, handsome in a way
that she had only seen in movies.

“They’re as dark brown as you
can get before hitting black,” he said. “I’ve heard that in certain light,
there are flecks of something you can see, but I’ve never noticed one way or
another. Yours, on the other hand, are a very lovely hazel, perfectly balanced.
Yet, I have a feeling they can go either way on the color scale.”

“I wouldn’t know.” She leaned
back in her seat when the waitress brought her drink. “My sister tells me that
my hair is red. I don’t know, so I guess she’s right.” She had never thought
anything of not being able to see color, not until Jason. Now she wanted to see
every single part of him, vividly.

“Your hair is definitely red.
Not brassy, though. Richer. Not quite a wine color, but a more vibrant step up.
It’s very pretty,” he told her with a smile. “Your eyebrows are a couple of
shades darker, and your lashes are brown. You also have these really lightly
colored freckles all over your nose and cheeks. An amazing package all around,
I’ll admit freely.”

Vivian began to pleat and fold
her napkin. “Sweet of you to say. I think you might need to have your eyes
examined, though, because I’ve never had anyone give me anything so much as a
glance.” She had dated, but no one had ever gone into such intricate detail
about her looks or made her feel as special as this man did with just a few

“I don’t need glasses,” Jason
said with amusement. “I’m just stating facts. James, back me up here—have I
spoken untrue?”

“Not at all. He didn’t even go
into the finer details, like the exotic tilt of your eyes. The unique tone of
your skin that seems to hover on the edge of a tan, yet still has a hint of
milky paleness to it. Hell, ma’am, he’s actually leaving out a lot.”

“I didn’t want to make her
uncomfortable,” Jason muttered, with a glare at his friend.

Viv turned her face down and
smiled, cheeks heating again. “You’re both too sweet,” she said. “James, your
accent is very southern.” She had to change topics or she was going to burn up
with as much as she was blushing. “Where are you from?” She found herself
reaching out to place her hand on top of Jason’s.

“Well, ma’am,” James grinned,
“I’m a good old southern boy. I was born in Illinois but did most of my growing
up and living in the deeper south. Jason here is all Greek, though he’s been
around us Americans enough that we’ve gotten rid of most of that prissy
sounding accent. Not all of it, though.”

Vivian laughed at that. She
couldn’t help herself. “Well, you don’t sound like you’re from Illinois.
Seriously, you don’t.” She shook her head. “This is nice. I miss having company
for dinner,” she admitted. Typically, she and Sophia dined together. However,
they may not see or talk to each other at all in the space between.

“You mentioned a sister,” Jason
said. He leaned back while the waitress set out the appetizers. “Younger?
Older? What does she do?” He sounded genuinely curious.

“Sophia is younger than I am by
two years. She’s a true free spirit.” Viv smiled but lost it quickly. “She’s
survived a lot more than anyone should have to. As for what she does…” She
nodded to the massive painting that hung on the wall behind them. The scene was
one from ancient times. The perfection of the field of daisies was magnificent.
It was pure, untouched. “She’s a painter.”

Both men spun to look. As they
turned back, she noticed a look pass between them. “She’s very good,” James
told her. “You can practically feel the heat of the sun and the breeze coming
across the meadow.”

Viv beamed proudly. “She’s a
complete sweetheart, too. She’s one of those rare people that you meet and you
want to stay around, one of those people who draws others into their orbit without
even realizing it. She’s off on Vashon Island right now, doing a mural for a
couple that was finally able to get the adoption they’ve been working on for
years. They’re marvelous, and so that’s her gift to them and to the girl that
they’re bringing into their home.”

“Wow. Well, good on her,” James
said with a grin. “I’m sure it will be amazing, especially if it’s for a little
girl. Your sister definitely has some impressive talent. Be interesting to see
what all she comes up with.”

“I’m sure it’s going to rock,”
Viv agreed. “That’s Fia for you, though. She seems to find what everyone needs
and puts it in a painting.” She was going to say something else but stopped
because she had just met these men and didn’t want to tell too many of her
sister’s secrets. “But that’s enough of that. So, the two of you work

“For a good number of years,”
James answered. He was grinning again as he took one of the zucchini sticks and
dipped it into the sauce. “Feels like forever some days,” he teased before biting
into the vegetable coated in breadcrumbs.

“More truth in that than I’m
willing to argue with,” Jason muttered. He waved her toward the appetizers
first. The waitress had left them all in the middle of the table, and
apparently, the men weren’t opposed to her digging in.

Viv grabbed some of the
zucchini, as well as potato skins and cheese quesadilla. “Thank you,” she said
to Jason and found herself reaching out to put her hand on his again. When she
realized what she’d done, she pulled back and whispered, “Sorry. I don’t mean
to keep invading your personal space.”

This time
hand moved out to touch hers. “Don’t apologize, Vivian. I don’t
mind. In fact, I may just have to insist you keep doing it as much as you
want.” He tapped a finger to her knuckles before drawing away and filling up a
little plate with the snack foods they’d ordered.

Vivian smiled and began to eat.
She watched the way the men would from time to time share a look and frowned.
“Okay, what am I missing? I feel like there are some unspoken words going on
between the two of you.”

“Nothing of any major
importance,” Jason said quietly.

James snorted at that and shook
his head. “He’s attracted to you but is trying not to appear too eager so he
doesn’t scare you off. He’s playing things cool, as I believe the saying goes.”
He gave a huge grin.

Vivian turned to Jason and
smiled. “Is that true?” She hoped that it was, because she was certainly
attracted to him. “Maybe we should have this discussion in a little while?
Maybe after dinner, you can go for a walk with me?”
Yes, I’m being bloody forward, but I know what I want, and that’s

He looked a little flustered as
he nodded. “It’s true,” he admitted. “And I’d like to go for a walk with you
after dinner. When we no longer have the annoying company. We’ll leave him to
go to bed. He looks tired, don’t you think?”

Viv laughed. “That sounds like a
plan. Hopefully, your business doesn’t take you guys away before you can meet
Fia. She’s a shining light. I think you’ll both enjoy her company. Just no
hitting on her. She wouldn’t know what to do with someone like you, James.” She
wasn’t teasing. Poor Fi had been sheltered, and Viv was more than happy for
that to continue.

“Little ol’ me?” James asked. He
batted his lashes at her and smirked. “If I promise to behave, do you think you
could get her to show us some more of her work? ’Cause, I have to say, if you
can, I’ll act better than I ever did in church.”

“That’s not saying a lot,” Jason
muttered under his breath.

“Don’t listen to him,” James
said, with a pointed glare at Jason. “I swear on my mama’s soul, God rest her,
I’ll behave myself with your sister.” He cracked a grin then that quickly
turned sensual as he wiggled his eyebrows. “Unless she doesn’t want me to

“Oh, you’re so bad. I can see
why your bosses put you and Jason together. He’s the smooth, suave, quiet one,
and you’re the balls-to-the-wall, anything-it-takes-to-get-the-job-done kind.”

“They put us together because
some of the others are still in their honeymoon phase and not exactly all
there,” James told her. “Not that I mind working with Jason. He lets me do all
the talking. But I think it’s only because he’s busy plotting. Not that he’s
saying or anything, but I’m pretty damn sure he’s got my end planned to the
smallest detail. He’s very detail-oriented. Which I’m sure you’ll get to enjoy
at some point along the way.” James had a knowing grin on his face as he eyed
her and Jason equally.

Vivian shook her head. “I
somehow doubt that very much. Seriously, I’m sure there’s someone else Jason
would rather expend that energy on other than a reporter from Seattle.”
Although, just the thought of Jason’s hands on her made her mouth water and her
body ache with need. She even had to cross her legs at that moment, her desire

“Nope, not a single other
person,” James helpfully told her. Jason was giving his friend a murderous
look, but James ignored him and cheerfully kept on talking. “He’s been in a bit
of a slump lately. It’s been a really long time since he’s even shown interest
in a woman. But given his age, I get it. You get bored after a while. Ow!” he
yelped. Something smacked into the table hard enough for the glasses to wobble.
“Did you just kick me?”

BOOK: Protected
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