Authors: Penelope Rivers
Copyright © June 2013, Tressie Lockwood
All rights reserved
Cover art designed by Mina Carter © June 2013
Formatting by Bob Houston eBook Formatting
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Shae stood up and stretched her arms over her head. She’d come to her family home a few days ago after the fiasco with her sister in Juneau, Alaska, but she’d gotten little sleep since then. Aside from the fact that she worried about Shiya, her father’s home seemed to be Grand Central Station for everyone in their organization to drop by whenever the mood struck them. Add to this the arguing going late into the night, every muscle in her body ached, and her head pounded despite the pain pills she’d downed an hour ago.
Her bedroom door burst open with nary a knock, and she gritted her teeth in frustration for forgetting to lock it. “Shae, what are you doing here?” Kasen demanded, a scowl marring his face so like their dad’s.
Shae glared at him. “Um, I think it’s my room, genius.”
His nostrils flared, and if possible, his expression grew darker. “Watch your mouth. I’m on E. I haven’t had coffee, and Dad and I have been up all night debating what to do about getting someone to replace Shiya. I want to go back out there to Juneau and drag her ass home after I put a bullet in those bears. Dad wants to leave her there.”
“For once, I agree with you.” Shae stood and grabbed a robe to toss around her figure. Her brother had never respected her or her sisters’ right to privacy, and it didn’t look like he’d back out of the room with her just in a nightgown. She doubted the man fully recognized her as a woman. How the heck had he ever found a wife? “I want to go get her. They could be hurting her right now, or she could be…”
“Ain’t no sense in getting emotional over it,” he snapped. “What’s important is getting back online. I don’t like admitting it, but she knew her stuff. We’re wiped out, no addresses, no contacts, no leads. Everything we were working on, except for a possible in Paris, where Sakura is, and one iffy in Taiwan, is gone.”
Shae belted the tie on her robe. “So in other words, you don’t give a damn about our sister being safe. You just care that you don’t know where to find your next kill.”
Kasen was on her in a heartbeat, but she blocked the move he made to grab her arm. For her pains, the heel of her palm throbbed, and the ache shot straight up to her elbow. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her wince, but stared him down.
“I know you weren’t about to grab me. I’m not Sheila or my sister.”
His eyes narrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Read it the way you want.”
They glared at each other for a long moment until Shae sighed and turned away. Sometimes she thought her brother was evil and had no heart, but on rare occasions, he showed a softer side. Too bad he reserved that side of him for his son and no one else. Because of his attitude, the first chance she’d gotten, she’d moved out of the family home, so she didn’t have to see him often. Kasen lived with his wife, Sheila, and his son, Kasen the third, but he visited their father almost every day when he wasn’t out of town on a job.
Rather than stand around and argue senselessly with Kasen, she grabbed a couple of toiletry items and headed to her private bathroom. This time she did lock the door and turned on the shower, glad it and the radio she’d left in there drowned out her brother’s shouting voice. She didn’t worry he’d break the door down because of his growing anger issues. He wouldn’t dare damage anything in their father’s house.
After her shower, Shae dressed in a pair of denim short shorts and a halter top. She slipped her feet into flip-flops. Summer was in full force, and all she wanted was to be cool and comfortable.
Later, carrying a cup of coffee and an egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich, she walked down the hall on the first floor of the massive house. The Keiths never did things small. Their house was considered a mansion, with ten bedrooms, three living areas, and one formal and one casual dining room. She had loved the place growing up, but mostly because the halls echoed with her and her sisters’ laughter as they teased Kasen. They had never let him hear the end of it the year he favored lime-green pants, which he wanted to wear every day. Their mother had put her foot down, saying he would smell, but even then Kasen didn’t have a lot of respect for anyone but their dad. Of course, he would never sass their mother to her face, or Dad would skin him alive, but he’d pack the pants in his backpack and change at a friend’s house. Who would have thought he’d land his first girlfriend wearing those hideous things? Shae tried to remember his age at that time and thought it was twelve. Boys were stupid, she concluded, and shook her head.
A wave of sadness overtook her remembering, and she wished, not for the first time, that Shiya and Sakura were home—and safe. After the incident with Shiya, Sakura had called to say she would come back, but their dad forbade it. She needed to concentrate on her job. Shae wished he had allowed it, if only to sit in Shiya’s room with Sakura and cry it out together. Well, she would cry, and Sakura would try to cheer her up.
A door overhead opened, and Shae picked up voices. The deep, rumbling one she recognized to be her dad, and the higher one, her mother’s old best friend. Shae tightened her jaw. The woman hadn’t wasted any time moving in on their dad after Mom died. Shae had managed to avoid spending much time with them together, and she didn’t relish seeing the disheveled fresh-out-of-bed look like they were an old married couple. She ducked through a random door as feet appeared on the stairs ahead of her and found herself in her mother’s old study.
Shae leaned against the door, looking around. She breathed in deep, and tears wet her eyes. Her mother’s scent still lingered after five years. Her father hadn’t changed a thing in this room, except he’d hung the portrait he had done of her in here. The smiling face with only the slightest creases around her eyes, along with the long, dark hair reaching past her shoulders, brought tightness to Shae’s chest. Her dad had transferred the picture here from the spot above his bed where it had hung for years. Shae knew it was to appease the heifer sharing his bed now, and while she understood it, she didn’t like it. She was mature enough to keep her mouth shut about not liking Gladys because Dad deserved happiness just as much as the rest of them.
Having lost her appetite, she crossed the plush wine-red carpet to set her plate on the desk. Then she took a seat behind it and leaned back to stare at the ceiling. Countless times, she had visited her mother in this room and talked to her about boyfriends, falling in love, girlfriends, and even about her sisters. Her mother had never judged her. She’d listened and given advice when Shae asked for it, or was just a shoulder to cry on when Shae needed that too. Their mother had been larger than life, in her opinion, and no one could take her place. Five years wasn’t long enough for the pain of her loss to dull, if it ever would.
After she’d had a good cry, Shae sat up and pulled the folded envelope from her pocket. She smoothed it and pulled the contract from the interior. “Eiji Tanaka,” she read, her temporary landlord. She knew from looking it up Eiji was pronounced
, a Japanese name. She liked it and hoped she would like the man’s home in Venice, California, which she’d rented for the next few months. The fact that she’d been ordered to go on vacation until Shiya’s replacement could be found was probably why Kasen had demanded to know why she still hung around. He could kiss her ass. She would leave when she chose to since she did not answer to him. Kasen had a group of men who were his subordinates, but their dad had made it plain from the beginning, he would not command Shae or her sisters. Kasen seemed to forget the fact regularly.
The door opened, and her dad stuck his head in. “I thought I heard a noise in here. Shae, why are you still here?”
She sighed. “Why is everyone trying to get rid of me?” Her mother’s portrait caught her attention again. “Dad, what happened to her?”
He stiffened, and Shae thought she saw anger blaze in his eyes before it disappeared and he forced a smile. Her father and Kasen were so bitter over the shifters. She was too, but the men seemed more intense about it. Maybe it was because they tended toward being old-fashioned, feeling it their duty to protect the women. Her dad must feel like a failure because he couldn’t protect her mother.
“You’ve heard the story a hundred times, Shae,” he bit out between his teeth.
“Just once, from you. Kasen drills it into us as if it’s the only thing that keeps us girls fighting. I believe in our cause. Those things are dangerous, and I want them all dead the same as you, especially since one of them killed my mother.”
Her voice cracked on the last words, and her dad strode farther into the room and shut the door. He moved to lean on the desk and held out a hand for her to put hers in his palm. She ignored the hand and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his belly. Even at fifty-eight, her dad was solid and toned. She admired that about him. He could hold his own almost as well as the young men under him, maybe better since he knew tricks they hadn’t learned yet.
“Your mother was beautiful and perfect,” he whispered, his voice coming out only a little shaky. “She didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
“What was it? What kind of animal?”
He hesitated. “A bear.”
Shae let out a small yelp before she could stop it. The two men Shiya was having an affair with were bear shifters. “Shiya.”
“Don’t,” her father ordered, and Shae pulled away.
“But, Dad, she’s…They could…”
Her father’s demeanor grew cold, and he stood up to walk around the desk. He approached her mother’s portrait and stared up at it, hands clenched into fists at his sides. “It happened in Vegas, a routine assignment. He tracked her. I’m sure Kasen told you this?”
She nodded and realized her dad couldn’t see her response. Misery closed her throat, but she forced the word out. “Yes.”
“He tracked her to her hotel room and tortured her before killing her.”
“Surely, someone would have heard—”
“Shae!” The way her father winced, she knew his pain was as raw as her own, and when he turned to face her, she saw the tears glistening in his eyes. Kasen Keith Sr. never cried—
She rushed over and hugged him again. “Dad, we have to bring Shiya home. I know if we try now that she thinks we’ve pulled out of Alaska, we can find her.”
“Shae, you will not mention your sister’s name to me ever again. After what she did to our entire system, she’s dead to me.”
Shae gasped. She drew away from him and stared into his face. “You can’t mean that.”
“She is dead,” he growled, “and if you go there, you will be dead to me as well. Have I made myself clear?”
She warred between defying him and doing what he asked. Even at thirty-one, with her sisters one year older and one year younger, she rarely disobeyed her dad. None of them did, not even her brother. This man before her commanded that much respect in the way he carried himself, his strength of mind, and his kindness to all except shifters. Yet, she loved Shiya more than anyone on the planet. For him to tell her not to look for her sister, it broke her heart.
Sure, she could tell her father where to go and brush him off, but he was essentially her boss, and his generous salary paid her bills. Heck, they allowed her to live a life of luxury. None of it meant more to her than Shiya, but she believed in what they were doing. Like her dad and her brother, what the shifter had done to her mother tore her apart. Shiya was a grown woman who had made her choice, and Shae could not chase after her and pretend the shifters weren’t dangerous. Cut off from her family and their resources would mean going out into the world not just poor but blind to the monsters that existed. They might be in a terrible bind right now with all their data erased, but she had no doubt they would get it back, even if they had to painstakingly rebuild, following up on every lead one at a time. For now, she needed to do what her dad asked. By no means had she written Shiya off, but she would bide her time for now.