Dream Shadow Press
Release Date: 6/14/16
Genre: Shifter Romantic Suspense
Undercover Shifter Bad Boys = Alphas With Serious Attitude
Tumble Across the Rubicon Into the Death-Riddled World of International Espionage
As an agent for an international espionage firm, Miranda has her hands more than full. Between secretly lusting after her boss, Garen, and making sure the dirty little secret about her double life as a wolf shifter remains hidden, she’s still a virgin at nearly thirty.
Sent to eliminate the head of a human trafficking organization in Amsterdam, she barely escapes with her life. Injured, frightened, and under attack the second her private jet lands in the U.S., she’s not certain where to turn.
Garen’s watched Miranda just as surreptitiously as she’s been eyeing him.
Unfortunately, the fact that she works for him is a showstopper. Plus, he has a few secrets of his own that have kept him single. When Miranda insists on heading up a covert operation, he can’t come up with a plausible reason to stop her. Watching her sprint headlong into danger damn near kills him. He wants to hold her, love her, protect her.
Miranda’s life is on the line. Will Garen risk exposure to save her?
Excerpt from Garen:
The Gulfstream G280 shuddered as it banked hard right. Miranda Miller pushed one of the window blinds out of the way. Damn. Black as pitch outside the aircraft. She felt like warmed-over crap. Her mouth tasted sour, and her eyes were hot and gritty. She rubbed them and tallied how long it had been since she’d slept. At least two days. She reached for a Styrofoam cup in its no-spill metal holder, sloshed cold coffee around her mouth, and swallowed.
Her headset hummed. “Wakey, wakey, fraulein,” a heavily accented German voice rumbled. “We land at JFK as soon as the tower clears us.”
“What?” Fear sliced through her fatigue. “I told you we needed a smaller airport.”
“Sorry, fraulein. This one was closest. We are below recommended minimums on fuel.”
She considered asking the pilot why he hadn’t planned better but decided not to antagonize him. It was bad enough they were flying without a copilot—probably against FAA regulations. She had a dummied-up commercial pilot’s license tucked in her wallet under one of her many assumed names. Hopefully it matched the one on her phony passport. She hadn’t had time to check. If it came down to it, she’d been instructed to tell the tower she copiloted the flight.
As if he’d read her thoughts, the pilot’s next words were, “I need you to move into the cockpit, fraulein.”
“Alrighty. Give me a minute.”
“You do not have much more than that. I do not wish further difficulties with the U.S. authorities.”
Miranda wondered just what other problems the pilot might be referring to. She almost asked him, and then decided she didn’t really care. Her international security company engaged professionals. Most of them came from either the military or law enforcement and had checkered pasts. She unbuckled her seat belt and stumbled to her feet. Her crumpled, black pantsuit stank, but maybe only to her lycan senses. She hoped humans wouldn’t be able to smell stale blood.
A muffled chortle made its way past her lips. Maybe once anyone got a whiff of days old sweat, they’d give her a wide berth. Her body ached, especially her ribs where her target had slammed a lead pipe into her. She fingered her side and wondered if anything was broken. Not much you could do for ribs. They had to mend on their own.
A few steps took her to the tiny head in the rear of the aircraft. She splashed cold water on her face and winced when she took a good look at her scraped knuckles. Her target in Amsterdam—head of a worldwide human trafficking organization—had been much harder to eliminate than she’d expected. She’d needed her supernatural speed and strength—and her wolf form. One more face-dunking in cold water and she grabbed a towel to dry herself.
“Now, fraulein.” The jet shuddered again as its landing gear clicked into place.
The pilot sounded so exasperated, she rushed down the aisle and hurtled through the already-open cockpit door. He grabbed her arm and threw her into the empty seat.
“Watch it!” she snapped. Her upper lip pulled into a snarl. Claws pressed against the ends of her fingertips. Miranda struggled for control. Her wolf wanted to kill the human who’d manhandled her.
“Sorry.” The pilot’s voice was mild. She recognized compulsion beneath his words and wondered what the hell he was. “I do not wish to draw anyone’s attention,” he went on smoothly. “The rules regarding business-class jets are in constant flux.” He glanced at her with gray eyes that didn’t miss much. “Are you hurt?”
She nodded. “My assignment ran into unexpected snags.”
“Will you require medical attention before you proceed to the West Coast?”
She snorted. What a subtle way of asking if she’d been shot or stabbed. Lars Kinsvogel—or whatever his name really was—had obviously dealt with people like her before. Something he said caught her attention. “Won’t you be my pilot?”
He shook his head. “Someone fresh will relieve me.”
“Will I be able to stay aboard?”
He shot her an odd look. “Of course not. You must go through customs.”
She rolled her eyes and pressed her lips into a thin line. “That’s why I wanted to land somewhere inland.”
His gray eyes narrowed to slits. “All flights from foreign destinations are subject to customs, no matter what the airport. Is this your first international assignment?”
Heat rose to her face. “No.” She was damned if she’d say anything else. She didn’t know him from Adam.
The radio crackled. The pilot responded in pilotese and banked the plane. “Flights from Europe are cleared to land at certain airports. With the fuel we have left, we could have landed in Philadelphia or Newark, but I have a feeling those two destinations would not meet your needs, either. What are you afraid of?”
Miranda wasn’t certain what she could tell him. Company policy was clear. Talk to no one. “Never mind.”
She thought about Garen, her boss and chairman for Rubicon International. She’d been half in love with his razor-sharp mind, lithe build, salt-and-pepper hair, and sky-blue eyes for years, but he didn’t see her as anything but a junior-grade agent. Rumor had it he scarcely acknowledged employees until they became full-fledged operatives. If her fellows were any indication, she had a way to go. At least a few more assignments. And then there was the problem of her being a lycan.
She sighed, and fantasies of Garen went up in smoke like they always did. It was nice to dream, but Miranda steered clear of men. Between her wolf side and her somewhat unorthodox career, intimate relationships carried too much risk of discovery. She relied on her fingers, a vibrator, and the occasional one-night stand to take the edge off her needs.
The jet banked yet again and dropped lower. Its wheels made contact, and the pilot hit the brakes. Because she wasn’t belted in, Miranda nearly plunged into the instrument cluster. Lars made an aggravated clucking sound, but he didn’t say anything. They taxied off the runway.
“Since I have to get off, I need to get my things together.”
“Wait until the aircraft comes to a complete stop, fraulein.”
He sounded so much like a bot, she stifled a laugh. The plane moved smoothly into an enclosed hangar. Once it rolled to a halt, she pushed out of her seat, returned to the passenger compartment, and unhooked her small duffel from the wall. Lars’ breath hissed against her ear. “Where are your weapons?”
“On me and in my bag.”
“Put everything in your bag. Clips separate.”
“I’m not that stupid.” She pulled a 9mm semiautomatic from its shoulder holster and punched the button to discharge its clip. She drew back the slide, extracted the chambered bullet, and stuffed it into the clip. Next came a snub-nosed .38 revolver and two knives. She spun the chamber to make certain all the bullets were out and then placed everything in locked gun cases in her carry-on.
Lars still stood practically on top of her. She met his gaze, noticing he was a few inches taller than her five feet eleven. “Yes?” She quirked a tired brow.
“Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?” He settled his hands on her shoulders. She smelled his arousal and knew he had a hard-on without even looking.
“Christ! Not now.” She spun from beneath his grip. “Let’s just get through customs and allow whoever’s knocking to search the plane.”
“We will have some downtime in the terminal. At least an hour.” He sounded hopeful.
Miranda looked at him. Really looked at him. Lars was attractive in a Teutonic sort of way, with ice-blond hair and gray eyes. His trim body suggested he worked out. Interest flickered but then died. She shook her head. “I haven’t slept for forty-eight hours. I’m dead on my feet.”
“Why did you not sleep during the flight? The air was smooth.”
Good question. She’d wondered the same thing. “I have no idea. Too keyed up, I guess.”
He shouted something in German to whoever was pounding on the side of the jet and took her arm. “I will watch over you until you are safely back in the plane.”
She opened her mouth to tell him it wasn’t necessary, but something in his face stopped her. In that moment, she understood he was a trained operative just like her. His role this time around happened to be pilot, but she was certain he’d stood in her shoes before. “Which branch of the military trained you?”
He shook his head and let go of her arm. “It does not matter. Follow me, fraulein.”
She shouldered her duffel and walked to the rear cabin door. Lars had just sprung the locks. He spoke soothingly in German to an obviously agitated customs officer standing at the top of the stairs. The agent’s beady, black eyes settled on her. “Do you speak English?”
“Yes. Is there a problem, sir? It’s been a long flight, and both of us are tired. It took me a while to get my bag together.”
Nostrils flared, the agent looked intently at her and then stepped into the aircraft, waving them down the jet’s steps. “Customs is the last door at the north end of the hangar,” he barked. “Don’t even think of running. This hangar is locked and fully alarmed.”
Lars placed a hand beneath her elbow and guided her across a concrete floor. “It is best if we do not deviate from a straight line,” he muttered.
“Holy crap,” she said. “Why are they so uptight?”
He shrugged. “As you Americans say, it goes with the territory.” He grinned, displaying very white, very even teeth. “Everything we do and say between here and the customs area is filmed and recorded.”
Dream Shadow Press
Release Date: 6/28/16
Genre: Shifter Romantic Suspense
Undercover Shifter Bad Boys = Alphas With Serious Attitude
Tumble Across the Rubicon Into the Death-Riddled World of International Espionage
Tamara MacBride has a much bigger problem than hiding her shifter side from the world. By the skin of her teeth, and with a smattering of Irish luck, she manages to kill her sister’s murderer. Escaping from the scene of the crime is much harder than she anticipated. Just when she thinks she might be safe, her cab driver shrieks and slumps over the wheel.
An unknown assailant terminates Lars Kinsvogel’s target. Pleased by the outcome—after all dead is dead—he exchanges the glitz of Monte Carlo for a nearby airport, intent on collecting the private plane he left there. He’s no sooner arrived when a cab jumps the curb, and he races over to investigate. There’s not much he can do for the cabbie, but his passenger is still very much alive.
Trying to hustle Tamara out of the cab is tough. She’s frozen by fear, but when Lars lays out the rest of his plan to move her out of danger’s path, her temper flares. He can’t leave her alone in Monte Carlo. Can he convince her to trust him in time to save her life?
Excerpt from Lars:
Lars Kinsvogel sucked in an annoyed breath. Anxiety and greed thickened the air in Monte Carlo’s Place de Casino, and he stifled a choking sound. Damn his hypersensitive shifter senses. If it weren’t for them, the desperation hovering around him wouldn’t be quite so palpable. Casinos were always like this, though, a haven for the rash and reckless. What had likely begun as a harmless pastime turned into hardcore addiction for an unfortunate few, forcing them to return again and again despite diminishing returns.
Hope springs eternal. All the poor sods need is one more spin of the wheel, another hand of cards… Lars glanced up, right into the croupier’s beady gaze.
“Would monsieur like to place a bet?” The croupier grinned with all the warmth of a hammerhead shark, displaying a mouthful of bad teeth. What was it with the French and their aversion to dentistry? Lars shook his head and made shooing motions with one hand. He’d have to either join the baccarat game soon or move on, but he could get away with loitering for a few more minutes without drawing undue attention to himself.
His target, a powerfully built man with features revealing Chinese ancestry, had an arm slung around a striking brunette. Maybe she was one of the hookers who worked the casino circuit, or maybe she was a steady thing for the man.
Lars considered it and decided she could be both. Around five feet eight, she had a lush, curvy body, dark hair cut into a stylish bob that fell a few inches past her shoulders, and memorable eyes the color of a restless ocean. A short, black sheath hugged her like a second skin. Open nearly to her waist, it displayed half her full breasts. Even though Lars’ appraisal was surreptitious, he forced his gaze elsewhere. The woman was sex incarnate, and he didn’t need anything diverting him from his objective.
Jaret Chen pressed chips into his companion’s hand and urged her to pick a number. He gave one of her breasts a familiar squeeze, which earned him a smile, perfectly rouged lips stretching over impossibly straight teeth—and a slight shake of her head. Color stained her tanned skin. Lars realized he was looking at the woman again, wondering how her breasts would feel beneath his fingers. She seemed uncomfortable with Jaret’s frank exploration of her body, so she probably wasn’t a pro. For some unexplained reason, Lars felt relieved. The woman was too elegant to earn her living lying on her back.
He snorted to himself and studied the flashing display above the baccarat table. Maybe the woman wasn’t French. That might explain her perfect teeth—and her discomfort with having her body mauled in public. At least she held Jaret’s attention. So far the drug dealer hadn’t spared him so much as a sidelong glance. Lars had never met the man, but knew a great deal about him from an extensive dossier provided by Rubicon International. Deeply involved in the heroin trade from the Middle East, across the Mediterranean, and into Europe, Jaret was one of the principals in a large operation—and Lars’ current target.
He sized the man up. Maybe six feet, he had a barrel chest. Strongly muscled arms strained against the fabric of his cream-colored, silk dress shirt. His art deco tie had been loosened. Dark eyes, pronounced cheekbones, and straight dark hair cut short blended with his business attire. For all intents and purposes, he was indistinguishable from the phalanx of wealthy—and wannabe wealthy—men circulating through the casino. Lars glanced at his own cream-colored silk shirt and black linen pants. With the exception that his tie was still firmly knotted, he and Jaret were dressed as twins.
Guess neither of us wanted to stick out in anyone’s memory.
Lars glanced at his Rolex. Close to midnight and time to move on. He’d seen enough. Now it was a matter of figuring out where and when to strike. These things always went more smoothly when he was close to invisible. He melted into the crowd and made his way outside. The casino fronted the French Riviera, and Lars stood looking out at the Mediterranean for long moments. The water was quiet tonight, waves barely slapping the white sand beach. His cell phone, set on silent, vibrated against his hip, and he tugged it from a pocket to look at the display.
Private. Damn! Could be anyone.
Lars punched the answer icon, held the phone to his ear, and waited. No need to say anything until he knew who was on the other end.
“Are you somewhere you can talk?”
Lars inhaled sharply as Garen LeRochefort’s voice came through the phone’s speaker.
Another shifter, Garen had founded Rubicon International with Lars hundreds of years before. The mechanics of the spy game had changed drastically between the late seventeen hundreds and modern times, but the basics—kill or be killed—hadn’t altered much. Everyone who worked for Rubicon International was some type of shifter. Lars’ animal form was a mountain lion, Garen’s a wolf.
Lars loped farther down the beach until he cleared several couples engaged in deep, hungry kisses before responding. “What has happened?” Something must have, or Garen wouldn’t have risked contact.
“You need to leave.”
“But I have not—”
“Doesn’t matter,” Garen cut in. “I’ll explain when you’re back in the office on a fully encrypted line.”
Lars thought about his twin engine Piper Seneca waiting at the Nice airport, twenty-four kilometers from Monte Carlo. It gave him freedom to come and go, and was much cheaper to operate than the business class jets he also owned. “Maybe I could still—”
“No!” The one word thundered so loud, Lars moved the phone away from his ear. “Don’t even go back to your room.” Garen hesitated. “Old friend. Trust me on this.” The line went dead.
Lars stared at the iPhone’s display and dropped the device back into his pocket. He’d been compromised. He wasn’t certain quite how, and a part of him was curious as hell. He kept walking, swinging in a wide circle to head back toward the Hotel de Paris. Garen had said not to return to his room, but if he was careful, maybe he could learn something critical that would help their side.
“Ja, forewarned is forearmed,” he muttered.
Keycard in hand, he let himself into a side door of the rambling old structure, got his bearings, and started cautiously up a stairwell. His suite was on the second floor, at the very end of the wing facing the Mediterranean. He’d always loved the old hotel with its thick, patterned carpets and antique lighting and furnishings. Staying next to the walls, he used a bit of shifter magic to cast a don’t look here spell. It wouldn’t keep someone determined from seeing him, but it didn’t require much magic, either.
He entered the second floor a few doors from his own and scanned the empty hallway, his senses on high alert. Midnight was early in Monte Carlo, a city where people frequently stayed up through dawn and slept the day away, so he fully expected to see other guests, but the hall was mercifully empty. He padded silently toward his door and examined it, wishing he’d set a trap. He inhaled, trying to sort scents, but there were too many to make sense of. He could leave, just walk away like Garen had almost ordered him to, but Lars had never been a coward, and he was more intrigued than frightened. He’d spent years worming his way out of dicey situations. This was just one more, and he was damned if he’d walk away from his things. Not unless he had to.
He took a deep breath, tugged his guaranteed-not-to-set-off-metal-detectors .32 caliber revolver from its ankle holster, and shoved the key card into the slot in the door. A tiny electric motor hummed before the deadbolt snicked out of the way. He turned the latch, kicked the door open, and pivoted from side to side, scanning the sitting room of his suite, gun at the ready. Lars waited in the doorway, barely breathing, and then he heard a muted click, followed by an unmistakable whirr, and knew.
He cursed in German, not knowing if he was more annoyed with the turn of events or with himself for not taking Garen’s advice and getting the hell out of there.
* * * *
Tamara MacBride pushed the betting chips back into Jaret’s hand. “Sure and I’m not feeling like wagering just now,” she murmured. “Why don’t you do it for me?”
He shot her an odd look. “But you like to gamble.”
You only think I do.
“Something we had for supper didn’t quite settle. Would you mind if I sat somewhere?” She swayed a bit on her feet to make her statement more realistic and sent a weak smile his way. In truth, she was a bit nauseated. Between sweat and greed, the air in the casino stank of humanity’s darker side. Expensive colognes added a queer edge, their rich scents intensifying as their owners’ anxiety rose. If she hadn’t been a shifter, she might not have noticed, at least not as much. So far, she’d done a decent job hiding what she was from Jaret. She aimed to keep things that way.
He ran a thick index finger down the bare skin between her breasts. “We could return to our rooms.”
She crinkled her face in what she hoped looked like an apology and did her best to ooze regret. “Better wait until my tummy settles.” He was arrogant enough, he had no idea how repulsive she found him. Thank all the bloody saints, she’d managed to keep any sexual activities between them tamped down to nothing because of his heroin habit. According to a bit of Internet research, she supposed he could probably get hard, but the drug suppressed orgasms. At least so far, he’d been much more interested in his next shot of dope and drifting into an opiate-induced dreamy void than in bothering her for sex.
Jaret returned his attention to the baccarat table. “I’ll just be over there.” She pointed to a row of padded Louis Fourteenth chairs with bowed legs. Jaret nodded absently. His pupils were very small, so he was still fully under the influence of his last shot. That meant she had at least a couple of hours before he’d need to leave the casino.
Tamara tottered to a chair on ridiculously high heels. They made her feet ache, but Jaret liked it when she dressed like a fancy woman and pleasing him was high on her list. She settled onto the plush seat and slipped her shoes off. A waiter stopped and arched an inquiring brow. Nodding pleasantly at him, she ordered club soda. Rubbing the bridge of her nose between two fingers, she made a grab for her courage. So far, her plan had gone off without a hitch. The only thing left was to finish things off.
The waiter handed her drink over, along with a bowl of salted nuts, and she set both on a nearby chair. The ebb and flow of noise in the crowded room eddied around her. A quick glance at Jaret reassured her that he was still deeply engrossed in gambling—his second favorite addiction, right after heroin. He didn’t care much for women, other than as window dressing and so the other men would see him as some sort of stud.
Ann Gimpel is a national bestselling author. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Her longer books run the gamut from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Once upon a time, she nurtured clients, now she nurtures dark, gritty fantasy stories that push hard against reality. When she’s not writing, she’s in the backcountry getting down and dirty with her camera. She’s published over 30 books to date, with several more planned for 2016 and beyond. A husband, grown children, grandchildren and wolf hybrids round out her family.