Authors: Robin Bielman
Tags: #romance, #paranormal romance, #Veiler, #enemies to lovers, #shape shifter
Never take Fate along on a date. The kiss goodnight could be deadly.
A Veilers Novel, Book 1
Tracking down Veilers—non humans—is only a sideline for Tess Damon. Vengeance for her fiancé’s murder is her reason for living. But with two botched jobs on her record, if she fails to eliminate her next mark, she’s dead.
She’s not afraid to die, but not before she gets even. Too bad fate has a really bad sense of humor.
Hugh Langston, a wolfen half shifter, lives to keep both humans and his pack safe. But when rogue humans kidnap his apprentice, his rescue mission is compromised by a hot-as-hell, kick-ass woman who makes him think only one thing:
Tess tries to ignore her feelings, but temptation trips her up. Especially when Hugh figures out he’s her next target and forces her into an inconvenient alliance that tests all the laws
Now, with the line between good and evil getting blurrier by the minute, it becomes clear Tess’s only hope of living to see another day—and finding a murderer—lies with the one man she’s supposed to kill.
Warning: Contains one obscenely hot alpha and the woman who wants to love him before she kills him. Look out for a blind date, scorching sex, humor, lies, and untamable attraction.
To my husband, for being my biggest fan and supporter, and for always knowing the perfect things to say. I love you, honey!
A few special thanks to my awesome editor, Holly Atkinson, the great team at Samhain and to wonderful friends Marilyn Brant, Caryn Caldwell and Jennifer Haymore, who each helped me along the way.
Tess Damon had no intention of telling the man holding the gun to her head what she was capable of. If he believed he had the upper hand, maybe she’d get out of this alive.
She silently fought the knots in her stomach and gripped the leather safety straps hanging in the open lift gate of the small, private business jet. As she struggled to keep her footing against the howling gale-force wind, shivers raced up and down her body. The frigid temperature stole precious air from her lungs. Her eyes watered and her ears ached. Pressure from the gun barrel hurt right in that tension headache spot above her eye.
Her first time flying in an aircraft that combined the comfort of a Cessna with the functionality of a sky-diving plane wasn’t exactly working in her favor.
“When we started this date, I’d no idea of your true intentions,” shouted the sharp-toothed businessman over the painful air currents. “You were wrong to think I’d be easy to get rid of.”
Tess let a practiced smile slip over her lips. She might be wrong about a lot of things, but eliminating the vampire who’d killed dozens of innocent people using weapons—with delay and torment—because he hated to get his fangs or hands dirty, wasn’t one of them.
So despite the nerves humming underneath her skin, she wouldn’t plead her case. Instead, she forced her heavy eyelids up and stared into the depths of night-fallen sky, grateful she’d planned ahead. As long as the pilot remained in the cockpit, it was just her and the vamp back here. This wasn’t over yet.
“I could say the same to you.”
“Taken to flying, have you?” His callous tone didn’t bother her. She’d jumped out of plenty of planes. Albeit with a parachute in place, but she pushed that worry aside.
She was an expert at pushing emotions aside.
“My talents are quite varied. It might benefit you to keep that in mind.” Despite her confident words, her body shook. She used every ounce of strength to keep her legs from buckling.
“I like a woman who’s sure of herself,” he hollered, his jet-black hair blowing off his pale face. “Perhaps you’d like to reconsider the job I offered yesterday and we can forget about this little indiscretion. I could use someone with your keen sense of deception.”
She swallowed the bitter taste in the back of her throat. “As nice an offer as that was, I’m afraid I’m not interested.”
“I see the job as your only chance for survival.”
Now he’d blown it. He could take those words and shove them up his well-dressed ass. Who the hell did he think he was? Sure, she shouldn’t be in this position, but the creep had slipped something into her cocktail. After a few sips, she’d figured it out and popped her own pill to counter the lethargic effects. Unfortunately, it hadn’t worked quickly enough.
“Really?” she said, forcing the word out with slow determination. “Why on earth would you say such a thing?”
Laughter spewed from his mouth. “You forget who’s holding the gun.”
“How could I forget that? Why don’t you put it down so we can talk about this?” Her shoulders and arms burned as the muscles grew unresponsive. She couldn’t hold on much longer and really preferred he drop his arm before she dropped hers.
“As interested as I am to know who sent you to kill me, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” He jammed the gun against her temple, harder this time.
A sharp sting shot through her head. Tess knew the only reason she was still alive was because he wanted the name of whoever had ratted him out.
“Put the gun down. I promise I’ll talk.” Lies fell from her lips easier than truths.
“A question first: have you ever failed before?”
Well, crap. Who said he could bring up the F word? She tried to mask her discomfort and decided to sling her own uncomfortable question. “I never kiss and tell. But I’m wondering how your organization will feel when I tell them what you’ve been up to.”
Before he could answer, the plane jolted, a patch of turbulence giving her just the edge she needed to take over the situation. When their bodies bumped, she spun on her heels and flung every ounce of her one-hundred-and-twenty-pound frame against the vampire’s chest. The surprise contact sent them both backwards, away from the open door.
The gun fell out of the vampire’s hand and slid from Tess’s view. She took the opportunity to leap down the narrow aisle toward her seat. The elegant wood trim and cabinetry of the middle interior was a far cry from the skydiver’s launch pad behind her. As she searched for her belongings, the vampire’s cold hand wrapped around her ankle and tugged her toward the floor.
She twisted and, before falling, landed the heel of her other foot in his neck. He let go and she back-peddled out of his grasp.
“This is not how I anticipated the evening going.” He pierced her with his mineral-gray eyes.
“You and me both.” She caught her breath, taking the few seconds to compose herself. Then, reaching one arm behind her, she stretched her fingers in search of the bag she’d hooked underneath the seat.
“Although, I must admit, I find this great sport. You’re a worthy adversary, and I’m sorry you won’t be around to continue the relationship.” His eyes darted to the handgun, now visible a few feet away.
Tess smirked. If he’d only acted like a real vampire, he wouldn’t be in this situation. “You’re wrong about that.”
In the next instant, she pulled a carved koa wood blade from her bag, jumped to her feet, and thrust the tip into the vampire’s chest. His eyes widened just before his body slumped to the floor.
Relief spread through her, slowing the rushed beats of her heart. She’d lost track of how many kills she’d made, but every one still felt like the first.
A moment later, the plane dipped, another jolt of agitated air reminding her she still had work to do. The vampire flying the plane also required elimination.
She walked down the narrow aisle toward the cockpit door. With a delicate hand, she tried the handle. It didn’t budge.
The pilot probably expected the vampire to knock. Tess made a fist, but before her hand reached the door, a voice sounded over an intercom.
“You’re out of luck, bitch. I’m taking the plane down with you on the other side of that door.”
She felt the pilot’s eyes on her and let out a restless sigh. “Did I not prove anything to you back here?” she half-shouted. She looked around for a hidden camera while she hustled back to retrieve her purse.
“You proved my boss incompetent. I’m another story. And quite thirsty, should you manage to get up close and personal.”
Tess rolled her eyes. She pulled a small metal nail file from her bag and wiggled it inside the keyhole. She’d never been very good at picking locks. And with her fingers chilled to the bone, this one was even more difficult.
The plane started its descent and her ears plugged. Her stomach flip-flopped. Dammit. If she didn’t get suited up to jump now, she’d lose her window of opportunity. She didn’t know how many vamps waited on the ground for her, but guessed the odds weren’t in her favor.
She dressed quickly, ran down the aisle, and leaped out the open lift gate.
As her body hit the air, she whooped, releasing the uneasiness shredding her insides. The black sky swallowed her. Her shadow, cast by a full moon, kept her company and brought a smile to her face. The freefall rush lasted until the lights of civilization came into closer view, and she tugged on the chute.
She set foot back in the City of Angels—at least she thought it was somewhere in the city, her lucky ass having landed in a deserted industrial area surrounded by chain link fence—and winced. The reality of another botched job hit her with unwelcome force. Would Christian let her off as easy as he had the last time?
Gathering the parachute, she surveyed the abandoned area. She rid her body of the harness and goggles and threw the equipment into a nearby dumpster. The pebbled ground kicked up dust, and the stench of rotten eggs, combined with something fishy, invaded her nostrils as she headed toward the fence. Picking up her pace, she jumped over the barrier and took the deserted sidewalk in the direction of traffic noise and city lights.
Up ahead, cars whisked by. In this area of Los Angeles, she didn’t know the likelihood of finding a taxi, but she could always use her cell phone to call for pickup. Or walk.
And keep walking.
That way she wouldn’t have to deal with her boss.
Her decision was made for her when she rounded a street corner and found a long, white stretch limousine sitting curbside. She recognized the license plate, gulped and forced her shoulders back. How the hell? As much as she wanted to run in the opposite direction, she couldn’t. She reached the front end of the luxury vehicle as the back door opened.
She clutched her bag against her chest as if it were a shield, and ducked into the limousine. She took the seat for a backwards ride, gathered every ounce of her practiced charm and plastered a fake smile across her face. “Hey, boss. What brings you here?”
“You, unfortunately.” Christian brought a glass filled with gold liquid to his mouth and took a slow sip, all the while keeping his eyes trained on her. The movement of the limo did nothing to interrupt his smooth swallow.
“Me? You know I would have been in to see you first thing in the morning.” Maybe. Probably.
“Really? Considering your failure this evening, I’m not so sure.” The ice clinked in his glass as he lowered the tumbler to his lap.
The man never blinked. He just stared—winning the contest every time. Tess looked away. “How’d you find me?”
And I didn’t fail entirely.
“I’ve been tracking you.”
“You’ve got me bugged?”
What else did he know that she thought she’d kept hidden?
“After the fiasco last month, I thought you might need some backup.” His words stung. Deep. She did not need backup. Not now. Not ever.
As an eliminator for Private Investigations and Elimination, or P.I.E.—the clandestine government-sanctioned organization that investigated and removed dangerous non-humans, or Veilers—Tess always worked alone.
“I don’t need backup. The thing last month was a fluke. I’m the best eliminator you’ve got and you bug me?” She’d discover where the hell he’d placed it before night’s end.
With a blank expression, he raised his hand to silence her. “I will not have your failures ruin the impeccable reputation of P.I.E.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’ve got one last chance. One. Last. Chance. If you are unsuccessful, your services will no longer be required.”
Her nose twitched. She couldn’t help it. She hated that he made her nervous. He’d made threats like that before with other eliminators, but she never thought he’d do it with her.
“Here’s the information on your newest target.”
Tess caught the folder he tossed and opened it without a word. Anything she might say would only hurt her more. She’d survived on her fearless live-for-the-chase mentality for a long time, but she shivered, realizing the man who had saved her from delinquency when she was sixteen now threatened her life.
A wolfen. Finally. She’d hoped for an opportunity to get close to this species of shifter for years. A quick glance at the dossier told her the target was a pilot and lived in L.A. There was a name—Hugh Langston—but no picture.
“The information we’ve got is sketchy, and our client would like a detailed report on his business and personal dealings before he’s eliminated.”
No problem. She enjoyed putting her PI skills to work. “Got it.”
Lifting her head, she met Christian’s unflinching death-ray stare. “Last chance,” he reminded her.
As if she’d forget. His veiled threat didn’t mean she’d be fired. It meant she’d be eliminated. And she couldn’t die. Not yet, anyway.
She had something to do first. For the past five years she’d been searching for the wolfen responsible for her fiancé’s death. Just before he’d died, she’d vowed to find the beast. No way in hell would she leave this earth before settling that score.
“Consider it done.”
Hugh Langston exited the chopper, thinking if he didn’t get his ass on an airplane and to the Canadian Rockies soon, there was a good chance he’d lose his edge. His night vision didn’t normally play tricks on him, but tonight his weary eyes had almost mistaken a mountain lion for a hiker. Good thing he planned to leave for a long overdue vacation in a couple of days.
Police Lieutenant Andrews came around the helicopter and delivered a firm handshake. “Thanks, Hugh. As usual, your help was invaluable.”
“No problem. I just hope the kid makes it,” he said, releasing the officer’s hand. Lately, it seemed not a week went by where Hugh wasn’t helping to rescue a hiker, rock climber or lost mountain biker. September’s warm evening temperatures lured too many novices out at night.
“Thanks to you, he’s got a chance. I don’t know how you spot them, but we’re glad you do. I don’t think he would’ve lasted much longer on the side of that mountain.”
They walked side by side toward the hangar and office, and Hugh thanked his lucky stars he’d eventually spotted the young guy. The mountain rescue team on the ground never would have gotten a visual. “Say, how’s your son doing?”
“He’s good. Promises me he’ll carry a compass from now on.”
“That’s a wise idea.”
“My wife hopes he won’t venture out again. I say he’s got to. When you fall down, you get right back up. Otherwise you’re giving in to your fears.”
Hugh squeezed his eyes shut. He pushed back the human-sentient part of himself that could hear the Lieutenant’s true feelings. Most days, Hugh didn’t have to keep that skill at bay. He’d mastered hiding it, preferring to be as human as possible. But he was tired, and the policeman’s fear of losing his son flashed like a beacon.
“I’ll second that. Take care.” Hugh continued into the hangar while the lieutenant made his way to a waiting patrol car.
The bright office lights made him squint as he passed the empty reception area. He slapped the closed office door to his left, and then turned right into his private, orderly workspace. He sat behind his mahogany desk and took a moment to stretch his legs before beginning his post-flight paperwork.