After a series of murders is discovered along the trail of the Shifter Underground, wolf soldier Jensen Tate is assigned to find and protect a missing stray. But Lia Crawford doesn’t seem to want his protection. When she eludes his watch and returns with mysterious injuries, Tate knows she’s hiding something. To discover her secrets, he’ll have to win her trust…and get closer to the woman he thinks may be his mate.
Lia has reasons to keep her distance. The killer is haunting her steps, determined to claim her. He will come after them both if he sees how drawn she is to Tate, though it becomes increasingly difficult to deny her attraction to him. Protecting Tate is vital — but will her deception cost her his love?
“My only complaint about Deceiving the Protector is that I have to wait for a third Resurrection story. There’s so much in the world of this series to ponder and I want to know more. Even though Deceiving the Protector has a satisfying ending, you can be sure that I ll be first in line to read the next Resurrection book. Ms. Tenorio, you’ve got me hooked!”
Copyright © 2011 Dee Tenorio
All rights reserved — a Carina Press publication
Crouched on one thick upper limb, nearly hidden by fat, healthy foliage, a woman waited, not even breathing. Green eyes watched him, almost the same color as the light-speckled leaves obscuring her face. Focused. Unblinking. A predator’s stare, waiting for him to walk into her trap.
Attraction kicked Tate in the gut hard, his body responding to that even glare so fast he just stopped himself from sucking a breath in through his teeth. Difficult not to like a woman smart enough to nearly get the jump on him.
He came closer, keeping his posture relaxed. Loose-limbed. Unthreatening. A human would probably think he was just strolling, but the woman in the tree wasn’t human. She had to have scented what he was as well because she didn’t seem to be lowering her guard. Had yet to blink even. Cautious.
That was fair. In this day and age, a female alone had to be paranoid to survive, period. But her guard seemed a little higher than most, the grip of her fingers on the tree strung extra tight, especially for a shifter with sheathed claws. As if taking the wrong step might turn her from cornered to kamikaze. He stopped moving, taking stock of her once more from this closer position.
Full pink lips that reminded him of lush roses were drawn into an implacable line. Seemed wrong, to see a mouth that inviting pulled into such a stark, emotionless shape. A thick sheaf of wheat-colored hair hung over one shoulder in a fat braid, the tail of which curled around the pleasant hint of a breast. Inexplicably for early August, a dark red winter scarf –looped loosely a few times around her neck—obscured those possible curves more than the fluttering leaves. A smudge of dust smeared one flushed cheek while thick bangs, unevenly cut and wet with sweat, put the bits of her face that he could see into that tiniest bit more shadow. Except for those eyes. They glowed—rebellious, apprehensive, ready for an attack.
Did she have as many knives on her body as he did? The look she was giving him had him guessing she might be packing more. And a few more teeth, too.
The kick in his gut turned into a battering ram.
Screw his assigned agenda, this had just gotten interesting. He bit back the smile that tugged his lips. He already knew it wouldn’t help him lure her closer. The instinctive pleasure of a chasing Wolf never gave the prey much comfort.
“Hello up there,” he said, still a few feet from the foot of the tree, looking at her from under the brim of his hat. His heel made a scuffing sound on the ground as he kicked a pebble out from under his boot.
Her lip moved, just as a soft, feminine snarl rumbled from her throat.
“You wouldn’t be planning to take those apples without paying for them, now, would you?” His aw-shucks voice had gotten him in with the most nervous strays in Resurrection like a magic wand. If she wasn’t feral, she should calm right down.
Another step closer and he could see a bit more of her. Her shirt was bigger on her than he’d first thought. Her arm where she braced herself to the trunk of the tree was wiry. Small, over-defined muscles rippled under golden skin, no trace of softness to them at all. The same to her throat. She was all hard angles and sinews. Her bones stood out too far from her flesh, hollowed cheeks leaving her full features sharp and forbidding.
The absolute wrongness of that had him forgetting his plan for a crucial half second and losing his practiced expression for one that did nothing to hide his scowl. Like a shot, she bolted up a branch, behind more leaves, so fast he almost missed the movement, and he swallowed a bitter curse at his own stupidity. This wasn’t his first stray. He knew better than to spook them, especially the half-starved ones.
As shifters, they were stronger than humans, could survive harsher conditions for longer, but it also made them more instinctive. A hell of a lot less reasonable. This one looked like she’d gone damn close to the outside of what even a shifter could endure.
The protector in him couldn’t let that go. He circled around until he could get a bead on her again through the coverage. “How long has it been since you ate?”
They were supposed to have fed her at the last safe house on the Underground, but that would have been at least two days ago.
“I have protein bars in my pack if you’re hungry.”
Her mouth pressed tighter together, her eyes narrowing further on him before she moved to another branch.
Shit, this wasn’t going well at all. He raised his hands, letting her see that his claws were sheathed. “You don’t have to worry, okay? My name is Jensen Tate. I’m from the Underground and I’ve been looking for you. I’m here to help.”
“I don’t need help.” She might smell like spring, and all that golden skin and hair might look like summer, but the cold hiss of her voice was pure winter. Deep winter.
Well, he’d never liked acting charming anyway. He put his hands down to his hips. “You don’t know what’s going on out there. You’re not safe.”
Her chin dipped ever so slightly, and damn if she didn’t smirk at him as if that was obvious.
This time his boot scuffed the ground with frustration. “Look, lady, I’ve been tracking you all day on zero sleep and double time, don’t you think the least you could do is come down here and talk to me?”
“No.” Just that. No. As if she could stay in that tree all damn day.
Given the stubborn cut of her jaw and mouth, he grudgingly accepted that she could stay there all damn year. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I’ve heard that one before.”
She probably had. Tate ground his teeth, wishing for once his sense of smell wasn’t so strong. This close, his senses were clouded by her. Heat or no Heat, she was intoxicating. Distracting. Arousing…
He twisted his head until he felt the relieving crack of the joint, then the other way until it did the same for that side. There wasn’t going to be any of that kind of thinking, even if she wasn’t looking at him as if he were some kind of a creature. He was there to do a job. A Sibile job. If that didn’t kill a hard-on in zero-point-two seconds flat, nothing would.
They stared at each other for another soundless second.
Nope. She still smelled good enough to eat. To drink and let the flavor of her stay on his tongue to savor before dipping down again for more.
“You have to get down here so we can get moving. I need to get you somewhere safer. Now.” Before he got it in his head to unwrap her from that scarf and find out for himself exactly where her soft spots might be. “This part of the Underground is shutting down.”
A flicker in those leaf-colored eyes. “You’re taking me to my next safe house?”
The one she was supposed to have already gotten to, except the woman seemed to travel slower than molasses on a frigid day when she wasn’t up in a fucking tree. He ground his teeth in an effort to speak calmly. “Yes.”
“Then I’ll make sure to get there on my own by sunup.”
His glare didn’t seem to faze her in the slightest. “That’s not acceptable to the Alpha.” Not to mention physically impossible. Her assigned safe house was more than two full days travel.
One of her shoulders hitched disinterestedly. Nothing else on her moved.
Goddamn it. “Might as well get down here, I’m not going anywhere until you do.”
“I’m not the one in a hurry.”
“You should be.” He allowed the darkest aspects of his Wolf to rumble through his voice. She might not be interested in what he had to say, but there wasn’t a Wolf born who didn’t respond to dominance.
An eyebrow raised on her face, but that was it.
Well, shit. That just left him with the truth. “There’s a killer out there, lady. Targeting shifters.”
“Everyone’s targeting shifters. That’s not new.”
“This one’s hunting travelers on the Underground.”
She wasn’t so glib this time, her cool-toned voice dropping to a softer rumble. One his ears liked much better. Smoky, rough. The kind of voice he liked waking up to in the predawn hours. “If I’m dead, it won’t matter to me, will it?”
Until he registered what she was saying.
Something dark snaked though his gut. The low, menacing growl couldn’t be kept in. “It matters to the Alpha. You’re a traveler, you’re under his protection.”
She blew her bangs out of her face, fluttering the leaf in front of her face in the process. Here he was, hot, tired, uncomfortably aware of her, and all the while she looked as if he was ruining her Saturday afternoon by coming along to save her life. Worse, those damn full lips looked absolutely suckable when pursed. “Protection is just a fancy word for control.”
Well, she might be annoying, but she wasn’t stupid.
At least he finally had something he could use to get her on the ground. “You’re always free to leave the Underground and try your luck with the humans. Maybe we should start with the owner of this orchard. Think he’ll shoot first or second when I tell him I spotted a shifter stealing from his trees?”
The straight line of her mouth turned into a mutinous little rainbow-shape. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh, honey, you wouldn’t believe the things I dare.” Neither could he, not with her strangely compelling scent taking his imagination places the little cutthroat up there probably wouldn’t appreciate. “Now get your ass out of the tree or I’ll help the farmer load the gun.”
“That’s supposed to inspire me to trust you?”
“Who said anything about trust?” He bent to pick up her bag from under the root when she suddenly jumped down, nearly landing on his arm. Tate glanced up, counting a good eight feet from where she’d climbed to where she now crouched, her eyes hard as frozen emeralds, guarding the pack as if it were the gateway to the Holy Land. If he didn’t know better, he’d expect a hiss and a scratch. “You sure you’re not a cat?”
Jumps like that on weak bones tended to cause breaks, but she hadn’t so much as flinched, not even as she stood to her full height. “Don’t touch my stuff. Never touch me or anything of mine. Ever.”
Tate straightened, his frown a hard thing against his teeth. She was even thinner than he thought. Taller, too. The top of her head actually came all the way to his chin. But that height didn’t work in her favor. She looked as though a hard Santa Ana breeze could knock her over. Old, worn boy-jeans hung on her hips, rolled cuffs too wide around her calves. True anger, flash-burn hot and fluid, coursed through him. How long had she been running on empty before she found the Underground? And why hadn’t their people tied her up and poured food down her throat? Shit, he might have to do that himself. A few more days like this and she’d be too weak to eat. His jaws ground together. Not acceptable.
“You deaf or you just like people yelling at you?”
He lifted his hand in mock surrender, stepping back. She wanted to carry her bag, fine. Hard as it was to fight the urge to protect, he did it. Because something else bothered him even more than the clear marks of starvation. The look in her eyes as she’d stopped him.
For a half a second, she’d looked…scared. Terrified. And not of him.
No doubt about it. This assignment had Aw, fuck written all over it.