Mace Llewellyn watched the police activity going on in front of his Pride's home. He knew when he saw one of the Pride males waiting for him at LaGuardia Airport something was wrong. Still, hearing that a Pride male had been found with the back of his head blown out did take him by surprise. But only for a moment. He shrugged his shoulders. "And?"
Shaw, one of the more recent additions to the Pride, smiled. "I'm just doing what she asked me to. She said to pick you up at the airport, and that's what I did."
Rubbing his hand over his head, Mace sighed. Damn Pride bullshit. He didn't have time for this. Or for them. His sisters and cousins. Waiting in that house like fucking queens of the Serengeti. They still hadn't figured it out. Mace no longer wanted this. The day he signed the papers making him the property of the United States Navy, he ceased to belong to the Pride. Fourteen years in service had made him a man with a purpose.
He had two goals in his life at the moment, both of which involved his future. The first would work itself out with few problems. He would finally start his own business. He already had the financial backers and a partner. The second would be more difficult. He needed to find a woman. Not any woman, but the woman who had haunted his dreams and fantasies for longer than he could remember. The woman who deserted him more than twenty years ago. True, they had only been fourteen at the time but, damn her, it was the principle of the thing. He would find her. He would find her and he'd claim her.
The potential reality that she may be married with six kids or living in Istanbul as a nun never crossed his feline mind. He knew what he wanted. So he would have her. But, as usual, his sisters were in his way.
"Not sure why I should care."
"Neither am I. Personally, I'm glad to see Petrov gone."
Mace gave the man a sidelong glance, unable to hide his smirk. "Did you kill him?"
"Oh please." Shaw studied his fingernails. Then he unleashed his claws and studied them as well. "Do you really see me bothering with killing him?" He looked at Mace. "I mean ... really?"
The man had a point.
"Besides, he did know how to party. Petrov had ... exotic tastes. So, anyone could have killed him." Shaw resheathed his claws. "And what did you do to your head?"
Mace rolled his eyes. "Couldn't exactly have a mane in the United States Navy, now could I?"
"I guess." Shaw cracked his big neck. "She probably just wants to see you. You are her only brother."
And the only Breeding Male of the Llewellyn line.
No. They would not have that conversation again. About his duty to the Pride and the Llewellyn name. He'd done his duty for his country. The Navy reluctantly cut him loose. He wasn't about to go back into another service that would last a lifetime.
And he sure as hell wasn't about to let them trade him out to another Pride like a New York Mets pitcher.
Shaw, however, clearly enjoyed his life. As the top Breeding Male of the Llewellyn Pride, he couldn't ask for better. For some, being a Pride male was a great existence. The females fed you, bore your cubs, and made sure you lived comfortably. In return, you simply needed to help them breed when they were ready and protect them and their cubs from other Pride males. On the surface, it seemed great. For some it was. But not for Mace. He wanted more. He wanted his own mate. In particular, the girl he'd lost so long ago. She would be his and his alone. He had absolutely no intention of being in service to the Pride females like some rutting bull.
"I'm not coming back."
"Don't care. I could care less what you do. Although I would like you to get out of my car now."
With another sigh, Mace grabbed his duffel bag and stepped out of the Mercedes that Shaw picked him up in. He didn't go through the front door with all the media activity, but went around to the side. Several uniformed cops and a Pride male stood by the side entrance. The Pride male glanced at him, scrutinized his shaved head, and then let him in with a laugh. Mace fought the desire to snap the man's neck. A fight he almost didn't win.
He slipped into the back of the house, through the kitchens. The staff glanced at him but kept working. The holidays were their busiest time because of all the balls and charity events. Although Mace didn't know a less-spirited group than his sisters when it came to the holidays. Mace reached the other end of the kitchen, pushing the swinging door open, when his phone rang. He dug into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out the cell phone.
"Hey. It's me." Watts. An old friend who knew how to find information whenever and wherever he needed it.
"What did you find out?"
"She's still living in New York. Divorced." Mace closed his eyes and let out a silent breath. He'd hate to start killing people at this stage in the game. Especially some poor schmuck who happened to marry the wrong woman. "And you'll love this.
She's a cop. NYPD."
"Really?" He knew that had always been her dream, but he always wanted to be a hockey player. That didn't mean he ever strapped on pads and joined the New York Islanders.
Mace glanced out one of the big windows looking over the garden. He saw them standing around. Uniformed cops drinking coffee and talking amongst themselves. Mace looked down the hall leading to his sister's office.
"Are you still there? I've got more."
"Tell me later. I gotta go." Mace closed his phone. He licked his lips and tried to slow his breathing. She couldn't really be here ... could she? But hell, if she were then he'd always been right. A sign from the goddess Druantia, Queen of the Druids, herself-she belonged to him. She would always belong to him.
He made his way to his sister's private offices, hearing the arguing before he even reached the door. He could hear her getting good and frothy with someone, too. Not surprising. Last thing the Pride needed was a bunch of cops searching into their lives. But Petrov had not only been his sister's employee and one of the Breeding Males, he lived on the premises. Since a shot to the back of the head usually indicated murder, the cops had every right to check the house.
Of course, all that logic wouldn't mean a damn to Missy, leader of the Llewellyn Pride females, his oldest sister, and the official family pain in the ass.
Mace turned the corner, one more hallway away from his sister's office, when he smelled her.
He stopped. Cold. It took him less than a second to recognize it. He knew it better than he knew his own name. Implanted on his adolescent brain more than twenty years ago, his adult brain still remembered it. In fact, his adult brain acted like his adolescent brain used to. It stopped functioning. All it wanted to do was wrap itself around the owner of that scent and purr. The cat in him wanted to stretch out his body and rub his face into that scent.
He'd been right. She was here. That explained his sister's anger. She hated her. Hated her whole family. Missy would never let her anywhere near the Pride home ... unless, of course, she had no choice.
He came around the corner, slowly moving into the secretary's office. One more door and he'd reach Missy's office or, as he liked to call it, "Destination: Hell." He could hear his sister dressing down someone behind the closed office door and he didn't envy the man, but he had something much more important right in front of him. He had her.
She stood in front of the window overlooking Columbus Circle with her back to him. She didn't seem moved at all by the yelling coming from Missy's office. She radiated calm. Her energy centered. Her arms folded in front of her chest. Not nearly as tall as the women in his family, she stood no more than five foot eight or so. But curvy. Ripe. A brick house. She'd filled out in all the right places. She'd cut her auburn hair so it brushed thick against the collar of her leather jacket. As he glanced down the length of her sumptuous body, he could see the woman armed herself better than most SEALs. A gun holster bulged large behind her leather jacket, and a smaller ankle holster on her right leg under her black slacks. It also looked like her left leg sported a holster with a small blade, which he seriously doubted any other cop in the state would consider legal.
Her phone vibrated against her hip. She easily slipped the small device out of its holster, glanced at the caller ID, and answered. At that point, he almost dropped to his knees and crawled to her. That voice. That goddamn, fucking voice. Like ten miles of bad road in the hot desert, but she'd somehow tamed that brutal Bronx accent. A bit of a disappointment, though. He loved that accent on her. She used to wear it like an old leather jacket. Now she kept it muted, controlled. Kind of like her. He smiled and wondered what it would take to get back that Bronx girl he knew and still loved. Thankfully, though, there was nothing she could do about that voice. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and let her voice roll over him like a rough wave.
"I thought you'd never call me back. You won't believe where I am." She laughed and his balls tightened. "Missy Llewellyn's house ... no, I'm not lying. How could I make that up?"
She scratched her long neck. The desire to lick the same spot nearly strangling him. "Jesus Christ, don't you read the papers? One of her people was killed in Battery Park. A couple of joggers found him. What? Nah. So, any message you want me to give her?" Her body began to shake as she stifled a laugh. "Well, I don't think I'll give her that message. Geez. And you said I hold a grudge."
After a few more moments, her body stiffened. "No. I can't. I'm working, that's why. Yes. Even on Christmas day. Besides, I hate Christmas. I have moral issues with celebrating it." He frowned to keep from laughing. She had "moral issues with" celebrating Christmas? The crap she could come up with still amazed him.
"Look, I gotta go. No, I'm not arguing about this." She closed the phone and slipped it back into its holster.
Dear God, the woman was still beautiful. After all these years. All this time. And he bet he could have her pants off and be inside her in ... he glanced at his watch. Thirty seconds. Yeah. That would work.
Desiree MacDermot stared out the windows of the secretary's office and waited. Well, waited and fumed. Leave it to her oldest sister to ruin her moment in the sun. Here she stood in their archenemy's house, moments away from throwing the rich heifer's ass in the back of a squad car, and what does her sister say? "Are you coming to Mom and Dad's for Christmas dinner?"
Why of course I am. I also plan to remove skin from the most sensitive parts of my body and rub salt into the open wounds.
Because isn't that what the holidays are all about-letting your family make you wish you were an orphan?
Dez shook off her sister's clear attempt to make her miserable. How could she be miserable when she had grand plans of making Missy Llewellyn cry? Missy, who seemed to love nothing more than to make the MacDermot sisters' lives hell. Apparently, it wasn't enough that all three of them had earned the right to be at the exclusive Cathedral School of Manhattan by earning top-level scholarships. Or that their parents worked damn hard to get their daughters the best they could afford. No, to Missy and the other Llewellyn sisters, none of that meant shit. They only cared about one thing-the fact the MacDermots were poor, Puerto Rican-Irish girls from the Bronx. And they wanted to make sure they never forgot it.
Maybe God would decide to smile down on her and she'd be able to piss off Missy so much the woman would do something stupid. Oh, if Missy would only hit her. Then Dez could handcuff the bitch and dump her butt in a holding cell for a few hours. Maybe the hookers would make her cry. Like she made Dez cry all those years ago on that muggy late-August day.
"You'll never be good enough for him."
That's what they told her as all four sisters circled her like a pack of wolves. She never forgot those brutal words, but she never let them hold her back either. Far from it. She probably should thank Missy. Without her inherently evil nature, Dez may not have had the guts to become a cop. She decided then and there to prove Missy Llewellyn wrong, and as far as she could tell, she had. Dez realized now these people, with all their money and connections, weren't nearly good enough for her.
Desperately fighting the smile that threatened to spread across her entire face, she suddenly realized all her fantasies seem to be coming true at one time. The thought of putting Missy in a squad car actually made her nipples hard.
Nope. This was quietly turning into the best day ever. Like someone hit her in the head with her Christmas gift five days early. It almost brought a tear of happiness to her eye. Nothing would ever beat this. Absolutely nothing.
"So where the hell have you been?"
Dez shuddered. Man, that voice sounded familiar. She only knew of one person with a voice like that. A freaky little kid who had to be the smallest fourteen-year-old she'd ever remembered seeing with the lowest voice she'd ever heard. She spun on her heel ... only to be faced with a god, if she did say so herself. Big. Like some kind of beautiful linebacker. A shaved head with a serious five o'clock shadow issue, and gold-colored eyes. Eyes that, at the moment, were staring at her like a slab of prime rib. No. This couldn't be Mace Llewellyn. Her heart dropped. True, this man was pretty, but she saw pretty every day. The Mace she remembered wasn't pretty, but he always knew how to make her smile. She learned over the years that was a hell of a lot more important than looks.
"Well ... answer me."
Uh-oh. Nutcase alert. How come all the good-looking ones were insane? "I'm ... uh ... sorry. Do I know you?"
He crossed big arms over a big chest and smirked at her. "Take a minute. Let it come to you."
She blinked and tried to remember all the exits out of the room in case the gorgeous nutcase went postal.
It hit her. Like a slap to the forehead. But ... no. It couldn't be. It wasn't humanly possible. But that superior tone. That haughty expression. That damn smirk. That killer voice that had deliciously matured with age. All together, they really could only belong to one person. The one person she'd been waiting more than twenty years to see again.
What happened to the boy she remembered? Apparently, this ... this ... man replaced him. Oh, and what a man!
But no matter how different he looked, she still knew. Maybe those freaky gold eyes gave him away. Or those gorgeous full lips that, even at fourteen, she hadn't been immune to.
Or maybe the way he stared at her. Like he spent every waking moment imagining her naked.
Only one person ever looked at her like that. Well, only one person ever looked at her like that where she didn't have the overwhelming desire to rip eyes from sockets.
"Oh my God-Mace?"
Time had done wonders for her. Some women never looked as good as they did in high school, especially at thirty-six. But she did. Better. She still had those killer eyes. Gray with flecks of green. He used to stare into those eyes during biology class as they faked their way through the experiments. Of course, that's when he wasn't staring at that beautiful face with that cute, little pug nose or that incredibly hot body. She'd been an early bloomer, wearing a healthy C cup while the other girls were just moving from training bras. All of that didn't matter, though. Not to Mace. That was just the cherry on top.
For him, it had been more than her big tits and luscious mouth. Dez actually liked him back then. Just the way he was. Ninety pounds soaking wet, barely five foot three, a head of hair he couldn't control, and the attitude of a giant. Most people didn't like Mace. Dez, however, found him funny and smart. Even his sisters never saw him that way. To a fourteen-year-old, that meant everything to him.
Excerpted from THE MANE EVENTby SHELLY LAURENSTON Copyright © 2007 by Shelly Laurenston. Excerpted by permission.
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