Authors: Lynn Graeme
Tags: #bloodhaven, #romantic suspense, #shifters, #paranormal romance, #wolf, #lynn graeme, #cheetah
In the Crossfire
A Bloodhaven Novel
In the Crossfire © 2014 by Lynn Graeme
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is purely coincidental.
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There was a cat on the grounds.
Liam Whelan lifted his head, recognizing the familiar scent. With an inward sigh, he switched off the power sander he’d been using and set it down.
The light coating of sawdust on his skin shimmered beneath the afternoon sun as he straightened away from his workbench. The work area was connected to the side of his cabin, partially shaded by the overhang. Beyond that, past the small dirt clearing directly in front of the cabin, was a mass of bushes and thickets he hadn’t gotten around to taming yet.
He strode to the edge of the clearing, wiping sweat away from his brow. He scanned the bushes in search of the intruder.
On the bright side, Liam thought dryly, she wasn’t one of his former packmates. The last thing he needed was for one of those wolves to find him.
His ears pricked at the rustle of leaves. From the corner of his eye, he saw the top of a shrub quiver.
Liam walked over and looked down at where his visitor was hiding.
Through the thick bramble, wide eyes blinked up at him. She was still in cheetah form, dark tear-mark lines bisecting her furred, tawny face. Two more blinks, then she rested her head on top of her paws.
Liam sighed. He glanced around but couldn’t see any articles of clothing about. He returned his gaze to hers.
“Clothes?” he asked brusquely.
She shook her head, the movement causing the leaves to whisper around her. Liam narrowed his eyes, but she merely stared back, still retaining that innocent look.
Shifters might have more relaxed standards on nudity compared to humans, but Liam drew the line at having an unrelated fourteen-year-old female shift in his presence without a stitch in sight. If anything, it was bound to make her aunt give Liam the side-eye, and Liam already felt a fool around the woman as it was.
He glowered down at the cub, then turned around and stalked off, bypassing the workbench and entering his cabin.
It was a dark, tiny space, with the front door opening directly into the kitchen. There was no separation between the kitchen and bedroom areas, the latter of which consisted of a twin bed—extra-long to accommodate his height—as well as a rickety dresser left behind by the cabin’s previous owner. The bathroom was only big enough for a toilet, a sink, and a shower stall. A window barely bigger than Liam’s head, letting in a bright patch of sunlight on the bare kitchen floor, provided the only source of light in the cabin.
Wolf eyes didn’t require much light, however, and Liam navigated his way easily to the back. He yanked out a T-shirt and a fresh pair of boxers from the dresser, then returned outside.
She hadn’t moved from her spot. Liam dropped the clothes right on top of her head.
He returned inside the cabin and started searching for his phone. He vaguely remembered having flung it against the wall last night, after waking up from a particularly bad episode. He finally found it half-buried in a box of butterfly hinges in the corner.
Tapping the screen to make sure the damn thing still worked, he began dialing. He went to retrieve his forgotten mug of coffee from the kitchen counter. Two and a half rings followed before the other line picked up.
Isobel Saba—Council agent, Liam’s landlady, and star of all his secret fantasies—sounded her typically cool self, if a touch preoccupied. Her voice, naturally low, curled into Liam like winter smoke from the mountains of his youth.
He barely suppressed a rumble as his wolf sat up to attention.
He could hear a cacophony of yells and thuds in the background. Isobel appeared to be answering his call in the middle of combat. Somehow, Liam wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“It’s Liam,” he mumbled, then cleared his throat. “Liam Whelan.”
A pause. “I know who you are, Liam. Is something wrong?”
So many things.
But he merely scrubbed a hand over his face and muttered, “Naley’s here.”
Silence. Then Isobel swore profusely, not all of it in English.
“I’m going to skin her mother alive.” A loud
echoed over the line. “What do you mean, she’s there? You mean
He grunted an affirmative. He poured out a glass of milk that thankfully hadn’t expired yet.
“She can’t have forgotten her access code,” Isobel muttered. Liam recalled that Naley was programmed into Isobel’s security system, fully authorized to enter her home in her absence. “Let me speak to her.”
“She’s . . . changing.”
“What do you mean, changing? Hang on, why isn’t she calling me herself?”
Liam rubbed his head and drew in a deep breath.
Isobel sighed. “Liam, I know you tend to speak in shorthand but this would be one”—
—“in which a little more explanation”—
He was always clumsy with words around this woman. “I gave her some clothes to change into. She had nothing on her.”
A stumped silence, followed by another sigh. “She shifted.”
Liam didn’t say anything. He figured his silence served as sufficient confirmation.
He rifled through the cupboards until he found an open box of cheese crackers. “I’ll give her my phone. To call you.”
“Thanks. I’ll try to get home as soon as—” Isobel cut off abruptly. “Lewski, what’re you doing?”
Liam heard a bellow from her end of the line. His hackles rose. “Isobel?”
“Fu. . . . One sec, Liam.”
A series of thumps and grunts reverberated. Liam heard the sharp snap of breaking bone, then a muffled scream. Not Isobel’s, thank the devil.
Head down, Lewski!
” she yelled.
Liam flinched at the deafening blast of a gun. His grip tightened on his phone. “Isobel?”
He paced the confines of the kitchen, the muscles between his shoulder blades drawing tight and tense. He wanted to demand answers, ask what was going on, but knew better than to distract Isobel in the middle of battle.
She’s a Council agent. She can handle this.
She can handle things better than you ever could.
The familiar black sensation began to claw up Liam’s throat. He glanced down at the scars raking up his arms, disappearing into the sleeves of his T-shirt. He gritted his teeth as he strove to calm himself.
The war was long over. He’d left that life behind.
“You still there?” Isobel asked.
He tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. He willed away the suffocating feeling that was already looming far too close for his liking. “Was about to ask you the same.”
“Sorry ’bout that.
It took a moment for Liam to figure out she had aimed that last sentence at someone else. A sound akin to a brick wall collapsing told him that the person had either acceded to Isobel’s request or received a very physical encouragement from her to do so.
“As I was saying,” she continued, “I’ll try to get back as soon as I can.”
Right. They were talking about Naley. Liam scratched his brow, trying to think of something else to say.
Isobel misread his lack of a response. “Are you angry?”
Liam scowled. “I’m
“I may be slightly delayed.”
“Take your time,” he growled.
She didn’t have to sound so bloody surprised. It wasn’t as if he was a
Though with his luck, she probably thought him half-mad anyway. Likely expected him to bite Naley’s head off at any minute for daring to invade his privacy.
No, that was a lie. Isobel was incredibly protective over her niece. She didn’t even use Naley’s name while on-duty—including, as in her current situation, while battling opponents—in case those around her ever saved that knowledge for later.
If Isobel truly thought Naley was at risk while in Liam’s company, she’d have her blade to his neck and her claws around his balls so fast he wouldn’t even feel her kicking him out of the tri-city area. The fact that she didn’t demand Naley hightail it out of there was . . . promising.
“Do what you have to do,” Liam muttered. “We’ll be fine.”
The loud crack of fist connecting with jaw split the air. Uncontrolled blubbering ensued.
“Well, thank you.” Isobel sounded doubtful, but seemed to take him at his word, at least for now. “I really appreciate it. Tell her I’ll be back soon. And to call me.”
Liam only grunted.
“I’ll make it up to you, Liam. I know how you must hate this.”
What Liam hated was that she felt like she had to make it up to him at all. He hated that it was his own doing, his own reputation as a hermit and recluse in the first place, that made her think he’d flip a lid at the imposed presence of an innocent young girl.
He hated that he didn’t have the words necessary to convince her he didn’t used to be this much of a freak. He hated that he couldn’t get back to being that person, the old him, again. He didn’t know if he’d even recognize the old him. That man was a veritable stranger now.
“Don’t mention it.” Liam wrestled with words for a moment, then managed, “Get home safe.”
There was a bemused pause. “Always. I’ll see you later.” Louder, she snarled, “Lewski, I’m gonna kick your ass. And I told
to stay down.”
Liam hung up and rested his hands on the kitchen counter. Very slowly, he released a long breath, trying to unkink the muscles bunching up at the back of his shoulders.
He tried not to think of Isobel putting herself in harm’s way. Or, knowing Isobel, throwing herself in harm’s way with an ululating war cry. This was a day in the life for her.
Liam was very aware danger came hand-in-hand with Isobel’s job. As a Council agent, she could be anywhere within Bloodhaven or the tri-city area on any given day, doing anything from mediating between feuding bear clans to liaising with shifter and human communities. Usually, however, it involved leading raids against extremist shifter factions. That took up a significant amount of her time. Some nights, when Liam prowled the property in wolf form, he’d see Isobel coming home to only two or three hours of sleep before heading back out again. Sometimes he wouldn’t even see her for days.