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Authors: Holley Trent

The Cougar's Pawn

BOOK: The Cougar's Pawn
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The Cougar’s Pawn
Desert Guards 1
Holley Trent

Avon, Massachusetts

Copyright © 2015 by Holley Trent.
All rights reserved.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.


Published by

Crimson Romance

an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.

ISBN 10: 1-4405-9264-0

ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9264-5

eISBN 10: 1-4405-9265-9

eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9265-2

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

Cover art © 123RF/Igor Stepovik and 123RF/Анна Павлова



Special thanks to Crimson Romance’s Executive Editor Tara Gelsomino for indulging my ginger fetish with this series. The Foye boys would be so much less fun if they had brown hair.

Also, thanks to tireless editor Jess Verdi for making me show that, in spite of their slightly dark hearts, my characters
have feelings.

Thank you for purchasing a Crimson Romance novel. Please sign up for our
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Ellery Colvard zipped her sweatshirt up to her chin and tugged her bandana down so it covered her ears from the freezing Utah air. “I hate you both,” she said to her friends.

Miles, shuddering on her little corner of the rapidly deflating air mattress, wore a broad grin. A
grin. Ellery had known the woman for ten years, and thus knew the smile was as phony as that Gucci purse Ellery had bought out of some guy’s trunk last Christmas. Momma hadn’t figured out it was fake yet, and given their tumultuous relationship as of late, Ellery didn’t care if she ever did.

“Pretty sure the fifty states camping trip bucket list was your idea, precious,” Miles said sweetly.

Teeth chattering, Ellery shook her head. “No. It was Hannah’s. I was too drunk to say no.”

Hannah sighed and rapidly chafed her thin arms. “Okay, maybe it was my idea, but it was Miles’s idea to run down the states in reverse alphabetical order. We could have been in California right now.”

“Yeah, I was
drunk when I suggested that,” Miles said. “But in my own defense, what woman in her right mind—especially a woman as educated as you two are—would give a flying frick about the specific order they received their torture in? Y’all, it all sucks equally, if you ask me. Which I guess you did. Why did I say yes to this?”

Ellery turned her gaze to the tent’s sagging fabric above them and sighed. Try as they might, they couldn’t get the stakes positioned right, and this wasn’t their first camping rodeo by a long shot. “If we’d done Alaska first, it would have probably also been the last,” she groused. “I hear the bears up there could shit out a human being completely undigested.”

“For God’s sake, screw the bears,” Hannah said. “The people around us are bad enough. So damned hunky-dory. Happy smiley people in their head-to-toe Patagonia gear who’ve barely gotten their boots broken in.” She wound her long blond braid around her index finger again and again and let her knee bob. “I actually hate camping. I did it so much as a kid with my dad and brothers, and I hated it back then, too. It’s just so inconvenient.”

“But you agreed,” Ellery said. She leveled her friend with an incendiary glare, but Hannah was unmoved. Didn’t even flinch. Ellery should have expected that. Southern women couldn’t use
the stare
on each other. They were born immune to it from everyone except their own grandmothers. No one was immune to a granny stare. When Granny gave that look, a little girl would sit up straight and get the scrunch off her face immediately.

Hannah shrugged. “I just thought it was time I did something more adventurous than chasing butt-naked practical joker patients down the hospital halls. So sue me.”

“Thanks for bringing us down with you, girl.” Ellery pulled her leggings-covered knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her shins. Her damned coat was too snug and too short to pull over them. “Who would have thought it’d get down to forty degrees in Utah in the middle of the summer?”

“Might have something to do with that hail storm coming through,” Hannah said. “I think I caught something about that on the radio when I was at the Jeep.”

“Hail storm?” Ellery’s voice careered to that stratospheric pitch her sister Gail had been trying to coach out of her for the past year. When Ellery got agitated, she got shrieky, but who could blame her? She wouldn’t get so freakin’ frustrated all the time if crazy shit didn’t keep happening to her.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and concentrated on the sharp sting of her nails against her palms.

Deep breath.

Deep breath.

Anxiety gets in the way of clear thoughts.

She pushed her panic away on an exhalation and opened her eyes. When she spoke again, she wanted her voice to be level. Calm. “So, Hannah, you didn’t think that, perhaps, with the storm coming that we’d like to get under some cover more than a millimeter thick? Or did being in this dinky tent while hail and wind pelted it sound like a proper adventure to you?”

Ellery could handle a little wind. She was a goddamned witch, for crying out loud, and her magic was tied up in air and weather. She could buffer them a little, at least for a while, but Hannah and Miles didn’t know that. In the ten years they’d been friends, Ellery had never told them what she was. Folks like her played their cards close to their chests. No one was “out,” and knowing too much about the supernatural world wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Sympathizers sometimes became targets, and Ellery had been fighting off boogeymen of the demonic and minor-god sort frequently during the past year. It was all Gail’s fault. At least, that’s what Ellery liked to tell her. It wasn’t really, but Gail hooking up with that gorgeous half-demon witch had a little something to do with their goddess zillion-times great-grandmother coming out of the woodworks and raising Hell—somewhat literally—a year ago.

Nope. The girls didn’t need to know about that.

“Next time, warn a girl, would ya?” Ellery muttered.

“Shhh!” Miles hissed, and she put one index finger on each friend’s lips.

Ellery grunted. She loved her friend like a sister, but she was shivering so hard that she could see sounds and feel colors. Her patience was edging ever-closer to
territory, but that dull-ass knife on the multi-purpose tool she’d bought at Camper’s Paradise before their
ill-fated trip couldn’t cut cheese, much less flesh. Her fingernails would have to do.

She nudged back one cuff and studied her nails.
Oh yes. Nice and jagged.

“Did you see that?” Miles’s pale eyes went wide in the dim light and her gaze flitted from the tent slit to each corner of the enclosure in search of some phantom shape only she had seen.

“See what?” Ellery whispered.

“Don’t do this to me, tramp,” Hannah hissed, and she grabbed Miles’s wrist. “So help me God, if I have to get my gun out of the Jeep to feel safe enough to sleep tonight, you’re gonna—”

Wind whipped around the trio, blowing maps and paper wrappers around them as their tent peeled back in one easy yank, exposing them to the elements.

“What the hell?” Ellery scrambled to her feet intending to chase the tent, but no sooner had she turned did a rough hand clap over her mouth and another over her eyes.

When then the hand on her mouth retreated, she tried to open her mouth to scream only to find her lips were taped together.

Memories of the last time someone had gagged her came rushing back, and her heart rate soared.

No. No! Not again.

She wrenched her body around and swung her arms, trying to make contact with her assaulter and vaguely registering her friends’ wild movements in her periphery, but he moved around her with a silken ease and pulled a hood over her head.

!” she mumbled, and the attacker grabbed her around the thighs and heaved her up to one broad shoulder.

She kicked, flailed her arms, and thrashed her fists against his back.

He held her tighter, and his hot energy enveloped her, stealing her breath for a moment. It was like stepping into a sauna—stifling and uncomfortable at first, but moments later it was soothing. No.
She could fall asleep in his grip.

She didn’t know what he was, exactly, only that he wasn’t human. Wasn’t witch, either. She’d know a witch, even if she didn’t know what kind he was.

“Let’s go before the park ranger drives by,” the giant said in a bland voice, far too calm for a man participating in an abduction attempt.

It was a deep voice. Low and rumbling in his chest and a sound as smooth as the one the cello Ellery played as a teen made. She wondered, briefly, if the Neanderthal in possession of that sexy voice had a face to match. Baritones seemed to be in such short supply where she lived, and she’d much rather hear her name called out in the throes of passion in a nice bass than in a strained tenor. Because that was
important at the moment.

She gave herself a thump to the forehead to reboot her common sense and started kicking again.

“What about their stuff?” another deep voice behind them asked.

Sounded like the owner of that voice was straining a bit.
I hope one of the girls is giving him hell.

“Ooo!” Ellery said behind her tape, meaning
! When Miles got squirrely, she fought dirty. She’d seen it time and time again when they did kickboxing classes at their gym. Instructors always thought Miles was an easy target because she was so darned cute. Well, Miles wasn’t beneath the occasional low blow. Really low. She was short.

Ellery’s giant starting moving, stopping once to crouch, and then he was up again. “Grab the backpacks. They probably have ID cards in them. Leave the rest.”

“Mmmphf mm ezz oof oooh!” Ellery said when he increased his gait, bouncing her atop his shoulder like a colicky baby on a jiggling knee. What she was trying to say was
Put me the fuck down!
, but either he didn’t catch the gist or else didn’t care to indulge her.

He kept moving at that inhuman pace, way faster than a man bearing an extra one hundred and…
…pounds should have been capable of.

She pounded her fists against his rock-hard back some more. All the blood pooling in her brain was making her dizzy, and being upside down made her nauseous. It would serve him just right if she puked on his backside.

Feeling loopy, she chuckled at the thought and switched from pounding to scratching. She patted his rear feeling around for the hem of his shirt, and let her palms linger atop his flexing ass cheeks.

BOOK: The Cougar's Pawn
12.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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