Liam started punching buttons. “I’m programming in my private number. For you only. If you need something, you call me. Any time of the day or night.”
Kim watched as he tucked the cell phone back into her briefcase. “Anytime?”
“What if I call every hour to check on your progress?”
“Then you do.”
Her brows rose. “You trust me a lot.”
“Because I’m asking you to trust me.”
Kim chewed on her lip, making it red and cute. “I suppose I can see that.” She held out her hand. “Thank you for your help, Mr. Morrissey. I’ll be in touch.”
Liam put his arm around her waist and turned her around. “I’m not leaving, love. I’m walking you back to your car.”
“Why? It’s only a few blocks away.”
“I told you, when you’re here, you’re under my protection. Do you think that means I’d abandon you right here on the sidewalk?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean.”
“I mean I’m walking you to your car.”
She made a noise of exasperation. “Whatever.”
Liam wanted to laugh. She was adorable, his fox terrier. And determined.
And bloody inconvenient. The phone call had been from his father, telling Liam news he’d been waiting to hear. Ms. Lawyer needed to get out of Shiftertown. Liam and Sean suddenly had other things they needed to take care of.
Liam liked Kim’s curves against his body as they walked, her narrow waist under his hand. She didn’t try to break away from him, resigned, it seemed, to let him walk with his arm around her. As if they were a couple, in human terms.
Something warmed inside him, a space filling. Liam abruptly cut off the feeling. He could not afford to get involved with her. Protect her, yes; enjoy her, no. No matter how tempting she was.
Kim was breathing rapidly at their pace, her ridiculously high heels slowing her down. He wished she’d kick off her shoes and peel off her stockings and walk barefoot in the grass. He imagined her strolling along beside him, shoes in hand, a smile on her face.
Too soon they reached her car, a black two-door Mustang. The car chirped as she pushed the button to unlock it.
Liam pulled her into another hug. Kim resisted again, but he scooped her against him, letting his mouth rest on the curve of her neck. She was warm, her skin salty, her pulse beating under his lips.
“Good-bye then, Kim. You take care.”
He meant it. There was danger out there, and Brian’s troubles were only part of it.
Kim took the card from her pocket that she’d tried to hand him earlier. “You’ll call my office as soon as you have anything for me, right? Anything at all?”
Liam turned the card around in his fingers, savoring the feel of the raised letters of her name. “Of course, love.”
“Even if you don’t think it’s relevant?”
He didn’t bother to answer. Liam opened the car door for her, and Kim gave him a flustered look before tossing her briefcase inside.
Liam smoothed her hair from her face. He could stand all day looking at her, breathing in her scent, touching her sleek hair.
He let her go. He wasn’t allowed to have her, no matter that he was hot and hard for her. She was beautiful, but not for him.
Kim gave him a smile, one that heated his blood, and slid into her driver’s seat. She cranked the engine, let it roar to life, then reached over to switch the AC to high.
She rolled down the window, sending a trickle of cool air over his skin. “Thanks, Liam,” she said. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’m just worried.”
“We all are, love.” He stood up, patted the roof of the car. “You go on, now.”
The window slid silently upward. Kim gave him one last nervous smile, then pulled the car onto the street. The taillights flashed red before she turned a corner, and then she was gone.
Liam might never see her again. The emptiness of that hit him.
No, that wouldn’t happen. She was under his protection now. He had her phone number and her address. He’d make sure she’d need to speak to him again, and he’d make sure she had to see him in person to do it.
When Liam reached home after picking up Sean from Sandra’s, their father Dylan was there. Three generations of males lived in the Morrisseys’ two-story bungalow—father, two sons, and Liam’s nephew, Connor.
Connor was twenty, tall and lanky, still a cub by Shifter standards. By human standards, he was old enough to go to college, and Connor had been attending a community college this year. Shifters weren’t allowed to apply to the prestigious UT Austin, but it had been voted to allow them some college-level education. No degrees. Wouldn’t want Shifters taking over professional jobs or learning enough to be a threat.
Connor’s classes were out for the summer, and he passed the time catching up on DVDs. Laws forbade Shifters access to TiVo or premium cable for some reason, so movie rental outlets near Shiftertown did big business. Connor was watching The Howling and laughing his ass off.
“You’ll have to go with him, Liam,” Dylan said as soon as Liam walked in, continuing the conversation he’d had with Liam on the phone.
Liam gave a grim nod as he got himself a Guinness from the refrigerator. Dylan had told him that Fergus’s trackers located a feral Shifter east of town, one that had slaughtered a Shifter woman and her cubs a few nights ago.
May hell rot all feral Shifters, Liam thought. He and Sean had found the bodies, a devastating sight that made his heart ache. As Guardian, it was Sean’s duty to dispatch the feral, but Liam was looking forward to exacting some justice of his own. Besides, no way he’d let his brother face the attacker alone. Not after what had happened to Kenny.
“I’ll go too,” Connor said. He’d come silently out of the living room and leaned against the breakfast bar in the kitchen. “If it’s a simple takedown.”
Dylan gave Connor a look of compassion. Dylan’s dark hair had gone gray at the temples in the last few years, finally making him look older than his sons. But a Shifter’s eyes, not his human shell, betrayed his age. Dylan’s eyes had seen much.
“I’m not a cub anymore, and I need to learn to fight these bastards.”
Connor’s father, Kenny, had been ripped to shreds by a feral Shifter. Their family had avenged the death long ago, but Connor had been too young to participate. The need for personal vengeance burned in him. But not only did Connor look twenty, he was twenty in human years. His fighting ability would take another decade or so to hone.
Liam drew his lanky nephew into a hug. “Like you said, lad, it’s a simple takedown. We’ll get him and go out for pizza.” Liam kept his voice light, though he was buzzing with adrenaline. He was more than ready to get on with it.
Connor rolled his eyes as Liam released him. “You and Sean are so condescending it makes me sick. You have human scent all over you, Liam. What have you been up to?”
Sean grinned as he pulled a beer out of the refrigerator. “You should have seen him. He meets this human lady, and ten minutes later he’s massaging her feet. He wouldn’t leave her alone.”
Liam threw his bottle cap at him. Sean snatched the cap out of the air and threw it back.
“She needs protecting,” Liam said, catching the cap in turn and tossing it to the counter. “She’s busting her ass for Shifters, the little idiot.”
“Brave for a human,” Dylan said. He was the only one in the room who didn’t look amused.
“She’s brave, but she’s innocent. I scent-marked her so other Shifters will leave her the hell alone. They’ll know that if they bother her, they answer to me. That goes for Fergus’s thugs too.”
Dylan watched him closely, and Liam pretended not to hold his breath as he drank his beer. Whose side would Dylan take? The clan leader’s? Or Liam’s? It was never certain.
Dylan gave Liam a slow nod. “If Fergus asks, I’ll tell him I sanctioned it.”
Liam relaxed. He went to his father and clasped his shoulder in thanks, then returned to the refrigerator. “We might as well eat while we wait. How about old-fashioned burgers on the grill?”
“Grand idea.” Sean sauntered into the living room and threw himself on the couch. He crossed his feet and leaned his head back on his folded hands. “Make mine medium rare and put a slice of cheese on it, why don’t you?”
Connor sprawled on the floor and took the DVD off Pause. “Rare for me, Liam.”
“Gobshites,” Liam growled, but he pulled the meat out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave to thaw.
As he started up the grill outside and formed the burgers, leaving out all the onions and salt and crap that humans littered their meat with, he thought about Kim. How she smelled, how she felt. How her blue eyes could open so wide that her lashes curled against her skin. Her dark hair had gleamed in the sunlight, revealing golden highlights.
He wondered what she was doing now. Back at her office, hunched over a desk? Talking to Brian at the jail? Reading thick law books to see what she could do for a Shifter?
She’d go home soon. Liam had easily found where she lived when her secretary had contacted him earlier this week. A simple computer search had sufficed, even on dial-up—no cable modems for Shifters. Why the human government thought not allowing Shifters cable or wireless or good cell phones would slow down their communications, he didn’t know. Humans had weird ideas.
What would Kim do when she got home? Peel off that severe gray suit, most likely. Would she wear sexy underwear beneath it? Did all-work-and-no-play Kim Fraser buy herself shimmering lingerie?
Liam pictured her in a silk camisole that barely contained her lush br**sts, maybe bikini panties baring most of her butt. Or not a camisole, but a tiny lace bra that pushed her br**sts up and barely covered her ni**les. Stockings, not panty hose. With a garter belt. She’d walk around her house in that, loosening up after work, pouring herself a glass of wine. Or maybe she was a down-home Texas girl who’d reach for a cold beer.
Liam imagined the beads of moisture on the beer bottle in the humid summer evening. Kim’s lips would skim the bottle’s mouth until she upended it and poured a cool stream of beer down her throat.
He imagined it so vividly that Sean’s and Connor’s burgers traveled way past rare to well done before Liam could rescue them.
Kim got out of her leisurely bath and went back to her bedroom with one towel around her torso and the other turbaned over her hair.
She’d gotten used to living by herself—unless Abel came over—no parents or siblings or anyone else. No dogs or cats, either, because she was gone most of the day, and she didn’t want to subject a pet to so much neglect. Or maybe she just didn’t want to mourn when it grew old, died, and left another hole in her life.
Tonight she felt the emptiness. She’d tried to fill it by e-mailing her friend Silas, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist doing research for a documentary on Shifters, and then taking a luxurious soak. She’d tried to lose herself in a delicious novel in the tub, but her thoughts kept drifting and she gave up.
She reached for an emery board and started sanding her nails. Maybe she felt the emptiness because in Shiftertown she’d noticed the fullness. The kids playing in the front yards, neighbors waving at Sean and Liam, the easy bond between the two brothers.
She thought about how she’d spilled her guts to Liam and let him massage her aching feet. The rubbing had felt good. She could still feel his touch, the warmth, the sensual firmness of his strong fingers.
Even better had been his lips on her neck. The man was hot. She had no idea whether Shifters did it like humans, but she knew that if she were a Shifter woman, she’d be working to get him into bed.