In memory of Mary Bunch and my condolences to her loving family.
And thanks to Sarah Woddy for sharing her family’s story. My condolences again to the family for a life cut so short. I was very touched by Sarah and her aunt’s story.
“David, if you’re going to be my partner in this, pay attention.” Wade Patterson glared at his twin brother as they sipped beers in the noisy Houston club—a shifters’ club where humans, who didn’t know any better, mingled with jaguar shifters.
South American jungle music rocked the building, and colorful lights roamed over the silk ferns and plastic banana plants. Vines cascaded from the ceiling and along walls painted with jungle scenes. Leopard-print vinyl covered all the seats. Tiny lights simulating stars dotted the black ceiling. On stages above the dance floor, a couple of scantily clad women in leopard-print thongs and feathers dangling over their nipples danced around vine-painted poles. A man wearing a leopard-print loincloth was dancing nearby on another pole.
“I am looking for the guys who could be involved in this, okay? Just because a stray cat catches my attention…” David shrugged. “Don’t tell me your eye doesn’t wander to take in every cute brunette in this place.”
Wade hated that David could see right through him. “For your information, I’m not just looking at the brunettes.”
Every blonde who looked even remotely similar to Maya Anderson made Wade take an extra look. He told himself that it was because the Andersons were the only shifters in the vicinity that he knew and they might end up there tonight. The rest of the sea of people dancing or drinking were unfamiliar to him. David gave him a skeptical look.
Wade took another swig of beer. “Drop it.”
David nodded, then smiled at a pretty redheaded human. She smiled back but joined a dark-haired guy at another table. The man glowered at David as if he were ready to expose claws and teeth.
“Humans,” David said, slightly amused.
“The last human male you dealt with over a woman shot you.” Wade reminded David often because he’d come so close to losing his brother that day. He didn’t ever want to deal with those kinds of emotions again. Shifters had fast-healing properties, but they could bleed out too fast, and then they were as dead as any human might be, suffering from the same trauma.
“Don’t remind me,” David said, finishing his beer.
Rebels in their youth, the two of them had done everything and anything they wanted to do after their mother died. Their dad had been so broken up that he’d forgotten he had two sons to raise.
Martin Sullivan, the director of a special elite force for jaguar shifters—the Golden Claw JAG, or Golden Claws for short—had been their salvation.
“I still don’t know why Martin called us in. We just finished that Peruvian extraction and we’re long overdue for a break.” David folded his arms across his chest, his gaze straying to a brunette this time.
“Sorry, David,” Wade said, and he meant it. Wade suspected it was his own fault that Martin was sending them on another mission so soon after their last one. Wade’s previous vacation had turned into a fight with a drug dealer, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, he’d lost the woman he had wanted to get to know better to Connor Anderson. Connor had turned her into a jaguar shifter, too, which still galled Wade. Especially since Connor had been traveling with a beautiful shifter named Maya Anderson. Wade assumed they were mates. But if Connor already had a mate, why did he have to get between Wade and Kathleen McKnight? Wade could do nothing about it, but losing Kathleen had definitely put his tail in a twist.
“Martin needs agents who are familiar with the territory. Since you and I have both been to Belize several times to run wild in the jungle as jaguars and were there just six months ago, he figures we’re right for the job.” Wade shrugged. “Besides, we’ve dealt with the trafficking of exotic animals before.”
David studied him. Wade hardly ever apologized to his younger twin brother.
“You want to let me in on the secret?” David asked.
Wade shook his head. He wasn’t about to mention that Martin was worried about him after his vacation in the Amazon had turned into a battle to keep the Andersons safe. “Watch for anything suspicious. Listen to the conversations around us. Martin said that this is usually the night they come to make arrangements to hunt the jaguars, but…” He frowned as his brother’s gaze drifted to a newcomer, knowing David was only halfheartedly listening to him. Not that he wouldn’t do his job, but he acted as though he really needed a break.
“Holy hell, now she’s a cat,” David purred.
Wade turned to see who he was drooling over this time.
Holy hell was right. She was a wild cat: Maya Anderson in the flesh. Wade looked beyond her, expecting Kathleen and Connor Anderson to be with her, but she was by herself. What was she doing here alone?
Meeting someone, obviously, Wade chastised himself.
David left his seat before Wade had a chance to tell him who the curvaceous blonde was. Trouble. That’s all she could be. She didn’t have a clue who Wade and his brother worked for, and she’d never seen Wade in human form. But she’d recognize his scent if she got close enough. They hadn’t met in the Amazon, but he’d been close enough to be of help to her in a bad moment there.
His brother smiled broadly at Maya and motioned to the table where Wade sat, leaning back with his arms folded across his chest. Wade was wondering why in the hell he’d agreed to be his brother’s partner on this operation. Besides wanting to keep David safe—which meant Wade needed to stop this now. Connor Anderson would kill David if he knew he was encroaching.
Wade recalled when he’d seen her swimming with Kathleen and Connor in the Amazon River. Diving with the pink dolphins, Maya had worn only a sexy black lace bra and panties. He wished he’d been swimming with her in human form and not having to watch their backs, hidden as a jaguar in a tree, unbeknownst to them.
Connor had been kissing Kat in the river nearby, holding her tight, possessively. Wade had had mixed emotions about that. He wasn’t sure why Kat had given Connor the time of day when he already had a wife. He couldn’t understand why Maya would go along with it, either. He’d felt bad for her when she stood wistfully watching Kat and Connor.
When Maya waded out of the river and onto the bank, Wade’s jaguar jaws had hung open. Hot damn, she’d been hot then—just like she was now.
He just couldn’t understand why Maya would share her man with another woman. Unless that’s how they liked it. He realized that he’d never seen Maya and Connor hugging each other, no molten looks of desire cast between them, or anything else that would lead him to believe they were mated. Almost like family… like brother and sister. Hell, maybe their relationship wasn’t what he’d thought it was after all. That had him thinking of different possibilities.
Maya’s blond hair was pulled up into a twist, showing off her naked neck and making her look sexy as hell as straggles of curls framed her face. She wore sparkly high heels and a blue T-shirt minidress that accentuated her long legs. The dress had a casual sexiness, unlike the revealing short-hemmed dresses and plunging necklines many of the other women at the club wore. Maya was just as arousing. Maybe more so because he damned well would like to see more of what he could only glimpse, given the way the dress clung to her curves. Her body was toned and tanned, and she moved like a cat—sleek, sure-footed, and dangerous.
Wade was suddenly very hot and very thirsty.
If any male shifter approached her and gave her a hard time, the shifter would be flat on his back, facing one angry jaguar—him.
As always, David was the charmer, his hair flopping over his forehead, his skin bronzed, his blue eyes smiling as he led the female shifter to their table.
They couldn’t involve a shifter civilian while they were undercover, so why was David breaking the rule?
“This is…” David didn’t manage to say anything further as Wade stood up to his full six-foot height, towering over Maya by half a foot, and looked down into her golden eyes, which were wide with surprise.
Once she breathed in his scent, she’d know he’d been the cat helping them out five months ago, and most likely she realized he was the same one who’d been seeking to meet up with Kathleen.
“Wade Patterson,” he said, hand outstretched.
She stood there staring at him, her pink lips parted in silent astonishment.
“We’ve met,” he said, not liking how concerned she looked to see him there.
David cleared his throat and crossed his arms. “Figures the two of you already knew each other. I’d kind of gotten that impression when she thought I was someone else—you—but she waited for me to identify who I was first. I’m always late to the party. Where’d the two of you meet?”
“The Amazon,” Maya said, finally breaking her gaze with Wade.
David’s jaw grew slack. “Anderson,” he said too loudly. His worried gaze shifted from Maya to Wade. He almost looked apologetic that he’d brought her over to the table.
Wade could tell his brother had finally made the connection. Kathleen, Connor, and Maya.
She still hadn’t taken Wade’s hand, and he finally dropped the offer. Turning to David, she asked, “Would you like to dance?”
Wade understood the slight. He had gone after Kathleen, and Maya hadn’t liked it.
“Hot damn, yeah.” But then David looked at Wade as if he remembered how upset his brother had been over the issue of the Andersons and sought his approval in his usual affable way.
Annoyed that his brother wanted to dance with Maya, but also concerned for him, Wade went for nonchalant. “She’s got a husband.”
David’s face fell as if the she-cat had dazzled him to such an extent that he’d forgotten about that part of the equation.
Maya smiled so brilliantly that her expression was as stunning as the colored lights flitting across the room. “Come on. I’m safe,” she said and tugged at David’s hand, with a flitting cat-who-ate-the-cream smile cast in Wade’s direction.
Wade didn’t think she was safe in the least—not if Connor got involved.
Exhaling heavily, Wade sat back down. He watched as Maya led David to the dance floor, trying not to wish he was the one with her instead.
Unable to look away, Wade knew he should be searching for the men involved with the exotic-animal smuggling ring. Two women approached Wade, and he spared them a glance.
“Can we sit here with you? The tables are all taken.”
He grunted a yes. The table was big enough for six, and since the women were both humans, they could help with his cover.
The redhead and the brunette thanked him and took seats next to him. They attempted to engage him in conversation, but Wade was too busy worrying that Connor might show up at the club any minute and try to kill David.
“So… you’re Connor’s…?” David let the question
Maya smiled at him as they moved together across the dance floor. “Sister.”
A hint of a smile crossed his lips.
David was so sweet. His hair was a darker brown than his twin brother’s, but since it was damp, it might just look darker. He smelled of chlorine, so she assumed he’d been swimming in a pool recently. He’d been so eager to meet her, and she’d been startled to think he was Wade Patterson, but he didn’t smell like the same jaguar shifter who had helped them in the Amazon. She’d said she was Maya, not bothering with her last name, and he’d given her just his first name also.
David expelled his breath in a combination of relief and laughter. “He thought… Wade, that is… believed you were Connor’s wife and that Connor took Kathleen for a wife also—jaguar style.”
Maya shook her head. “That’s what we assumed.”
“You did?” David asked.
She smiled. “Yeah. I wanted to meet him when we were in the jungle, but my brother wasn’t keen on it.”
When David had taken her to the table where Wade was sitting, she had recognized him immediately, courtesy of his photos on the social networking sites that Kat had shown her. Taking in a deep breath of his masculine scent, she had been assured he was the same jaguar that had risked his neck aiding them.
Still, Maya couldn’t believe her good fortune that he was here. She was dying to talk with him and thank him. But she hadn’t wanted to appear too eager to meet him—especially after his rather chilly reception—so she’d asked his brother to dance with her instead. Not to mention that David had greeted her first when she arrived at the club, and she felt she owed him a dance at least.
David glanced in his brother’s direction. “You… wanted to meet my brother.”
“So… why did you ask me to dance? Seemed to me you would have danced with him instead.” David didn’t sound upset about it, more resigned than anything.
“I wanted to talk to you. I do want to thank him for all that he did for us in the Amazon. My brother didn’t want Wade to get close to Kat. So… what are you both doing here? I thought Wade was supposed to be from Pensacola.” She frowned a little, beginning to get suspicious.
“We have a job to do in Houston.”
Maya raised her brows, waiting for an explanation, but he didn’t give one. She asked point-blank, “Does Wade still want to get together with Kat?”
He’d better not even think of it. Not only would Connor turn into one feral cat, but so would Maya. Kat had dropped all correspondence with Wade—mostly because Connor didn’t want Wade thinking he had a chance at getting to know Kat better. Some men didn’t know when to leave well enough alone.
She glanced back at Wade. He was sexy, in great shape, and had dark brown hair and the most beautiful blue-green eyes she’d ever seen. In his photos, he had smiled in a way that said he liked to smile, liked to have fun when he wasn’t fighting bad guys. Putting his best face forward for Kat might have been nothing but a ploy, but Maya thought he was being honest. Maybe because she wanted him to be.
“You think Wade is still interested in Kathleen McKnight? He isn’t. Wade knew he lost that battle,” David said. “Besides, I got the impression he was kind of intrigued with another cat.”
“Oh.” Well, of course she should have figured Wade was interested in another jaguar shifter. Why wouldn’t he be? She could just imagine she-cats wanting to rub against him up close and personal.
“Yeah,” David said, sounding like it was just his luck. “He didn’t like that Connor was paying so much attention to Kat and leaving you to your own devices.”
“Me?” She frowned at David, wondering just how much Wade had seen.
“In fact, he was pretty incensed.”