Chapter 1 & Chapter 2
“Wanting her was dangerous. She was not of his kind, and if she learned what he was, she could put the pack at risk. Yet desire waylaid him each time he caught her scent.”
Aidan Wallace listened intently as Emma Gavin – her cute blonde self tucked into a red dress – read from her latest book, Night Shift. Emma always kicked off a book tour with a reading in Manhattan, and Aidan had attended the last three. The first two times he’d come as a fan intrigued by this petite twenty-eight-year-old who seemed to have an uncanny understanding of werewolves. Most writers got it all wrong.
But her accuracy had a down side. For this Wednesday night event, he wasn’t here as a fan. Instead he was attending in his role as Chief Security Officer for the Wallace pack. Howard Wallace, the alpha and Aidan’s father, worried that a rogue werewolf might be feeding Emma information. If she’d made contact with somebody on the inside, that kind of leak had the power to destroy the pack.
Three months ago, Howard had directed Aidan to put her under twenty-four-hour surveillance. So far he’d turned up nothing, but his father wanted him to stay on the job. When Emma left on her book tour, Aidan would follow, although trailing her from place to place without being spotted would test his skills.
He would manage. With business interests that stretched from Park Avenue to Broadway, from Wall Street to Times Square, the Wallaces couldn’t afford a security breach. New York City tolerated a diverse population, but even New Yorkers might panic if they learned that a sizable chunk of the city was owned by werewolves.
“She wanted him, too. Her breathing changed and her pupils widened whenever he was near.” Emma paused and ran her tongue nervously over her lips. She never seemed at ease during these events.
That didn’t surprise him. After observing her for three months, he knew she’d rather be alone in her loft, curled up in a cozy chair with a book or her laptop. Besides, she had to be exhausted after pulling that all-nighter to meet today’s deadline for the next book in the series.
Aidan figured that if she were getting inside info from the werewolf community, she would have contacted her source sometime during the past few days, and most definitely last night when she was pushing toward the finish. She hadn’t. So what explained the on-target nature of her stories? Lucky guesses?
Aidan had pondered that while reading Night Shift recently. He’d been privy to an advance copy because his father and the publisher were old drinking buddies. No wonder Emma had chosen this passage for tonight’s presentation. It captured the basic appeal of the series – a takeoff on Beauty and the Beast that had fans sacrificing grocery money to buy her books in hardcover.
The fantasy of a male werewolf mating with a human female was a popular one. Aidan would like to believe he wasn’t drawn into it, that he viewed the subject intellectually. That wasn’t quite true.
But tonight, with Emma standing there in a silk dress that lovingly draped her breasts and hips, he couldn’t allow himself to fantasize. His groin tightened and he glanced away, irritated with his automatic response to her. Arousal was a reaction he couldn’t afford, especially given his genetic flaw. Unsatisfied arousal caused him to begin to shift.
He concentrated on the uncomfortable nature of the metal folding chair. The manufacturer hadn’t created this chair with a six-four, two-hundred-pound werewolf in mind. The seat was too small and the back too low. Mentally complaining about the chair did the trick, and he was able to return his attention to Emma.
She stood in front of a table stacked high with her books, and a young brunette in a black suit hovered nearby. Aidan pegged her as somebody from the publishing house who’d come along to facilitate the signing gig.
“If he took her, there would be no turning back. A werewolf mated for life.”
As would he. The crown prince of the Wallace pack was expected to choose well and cement either a financial or political alliance with one of the other great werewolf families based in North America. His brother Roarke might have more leeway, but Aidan’s path was preordained.
Barring some misstep, he’d end up with Nadia Henderson, daughter of Leland Henderson, alpha leader of the pack based near Chicago. Aidan and Nadia had known each other since they were young, and he liked her. She didn’t excite him sexually, but that wasn’t the point. Uniting the New York and Chicago packs through marriage would create a powerful dynasty.
Because Emma stirred him more than any human female he’d ever met, he was wary of her. At thirty-two he was fast approaching the time when he’d have to commit to Nadia, and he prided himself on honoring his commitments. Love and passion, the kind Emma wrote about, wouldn’t factor into it.
Distracted by that thought, he missed the end of the reading and the beginning of the autographing session. A line had formed by the time Aidan stood, and the woman in the black suit had stepped in to slip promo material into each copy before handing it back to the buyer.
Holding the hardback he’d purchased earlier in the evening and folding his topcoat over one arm, Aidan headed to the back of the group. He hated lines, but he would stand in this one because it would give him a rare chance to talk with Emma face-to-face. Maybe he’d learn something important.
He hadn’t sensed any other werewolves in the crowd, which was a disappointment. He’d thought her informant, if she had one, would want to attend the launch of her book tour. Apparently not.
He recognized a few faces from the previous two signings. Her mother was here, of course. Betty Gavin had taken a chair in front and was near the head of the line.
Her blonde hair was mixed with grey and she carried a few more pounds than her daughter, but the resemblance was striking. She worked as an administrative assistant for a group of lawyers. Aidan had checked her out thoroughly, too, and hadn’t found anything suspicious. Obviously she thought her daughter hung the moon.
Aidan settled in to wait and tried to block out the sensory overload created by a pack of humans. Perfume, aftershave, and deodorant assaulted his nostrils, while a cacophony of voices, cell phone chimes, background music, and shuffling feet battered his eardrums.
He longed for the stillness of the forest, or the hushed ambiance he’d achieved in his Central Park West apartment with triple-paned glass and acres of moss-green carpet. A flat-screen in every room ran continuous forest-scene footage to give him the illusion of the deep woods even in the heart of the city and he kept a jungle of plants healthy with the help of a plant-sitter.
Silence was another thing he appreciated about Emma. She didn’t make unnecessary noise except once in a great while when she’d crank up the volume on her iPod speakers and dance around her Greenwich Village loft. She knew some sexy dance moves that he’d be wise to forget about.
She didn’t wear perfume, either, which allowed him to pick up her true scent. Unfortunately, he was drawn to it. He understood the power of pheromones and recognized that he had a significant problem with Emma in that regard.
Her beguiling aroma reached out to him, penetrating the maze of competing scents, taunting him from thirty feet away. He’d met her up close only twice before, both times when she’d autographed books at this store.
The first time she only smiled and thanked him for coming. But the second time she’d asked enough questions to find out he was a member of the well-connected Wallace family. She’d seemed a little surprised, yet pleased, that Aidan read her books.
He figured she’d already spotted him tonight. After all, he was one of a handful of men in the audience. He’d bet he was the only one who knew how she took her coffee – no sugar, two creams – or what color sheets were on her bed – hunter green. Seeing her tonight was a completely different experience for him now that he knew so much about her. He’d have to be careful to keep all that intimate knowledge under wraps when he spoke to her.
For three months, he and his staff had monitored her activities through wire taps and hidden cameras in her loft. He’d personally followed her whenever she left her apartment for lunch dates with her mom, her agent, or a girlfriend.
Her lifestyle wasn’t all that different from many women in their late twenties. She was an environmentalist, which prompted her to take public transportation to save fossil fuels. She drank organic coffee, but she drank too much of it, which had turned her into an insomniac. Or maybe it was all the organic chocolate she ate along with the coffee. More than once he’d cringed as he’d realized her dinner had consisted of those two items.
But he understood the food or lack thereof more than he understood her choice of boyfriend. As he moved closer to the signing table and the pull of pheromones grew stronger, his thoughts understandably turned to her sex life, or what passed for her sex life.
The way he figured it, a woman who could dance, a woman who could write creative sex scenes that left him hard and aching, would require a dynamite lover. Instead she had . . . Doug, who was also her CPA. Doug might be world-class when it came to preparing her tax returns, but apparently he didn’t know Jack-shit about pleasing her in bed.
Doug had spent the night at Emma’s loft exactly four times in three months. Aidan had balked at putting a camera in her bedroom, both to respect her privacy and protect his sanity. But the audio from the living room camera had picked up the sounds of a couple having sex in the bedroom. Sad to say, he hadn’t detected much excitement connected to the activity. Doug seemed to have the energy quotient of a stale bagel.
Emma deserved somebody more inspired, somebody more ardent. Aidan wondered if she was so busy with her career that she simply lacked the time to search out a better alternative to Doug. Then, too, her taxes were probably complicated and a good CPA was hard to find.
As Aidan contemplated Emma’s sorry excuse for a sex life, Betty Gavin walked past him holding her signed book.
She paused. “Aren’t you Aidan Wallace?”
“Guilty as charged.”
Betty smiled and held out her hand. “I’m Emma’s mother. She told me you read her books. I think she’s proud of that.”
Aidan shook her hand and took note that Betty had a firm grip. His contacts had assured him that in the office where she worked, she was a force to be reckoned with. “Your daughter’s a gifted writer.”
It was the right thing to say. Betty beamed as if he’d handed her an Academy Award, and her blue eyes, so like Emma’s, glowed with pride. “She’s amazing. I don’t know where she gets all those ideas.”
That was the very question that had the Wallace pack so agitated, but he couldn’t say that. “I guess she’s just creative.”
“Yes, she certainly is.” Betty looked over toward the bookstore entrance. “I was so hoping Doug would surprise her at the last minute and show up.” She glanced at Aidan. “That’s her boyfriend. But he had a Rotary meeting tonight.”
“You’d think he’d want to be here.” No shit he should be here.
“You would think so, wouldn’t you? Emma just finished a book early this morning, and she likes to celebrate after turning in a manuscript. I wish I could stay and party with her, but my office called an early meeting and if I don’t head home I’ll sleep through it.”
“Maybe her boyfriend will show up.” Aidan wondered how tuned in the guy could be if he didn’t know about Emma’s habit of celebrating when she met a deadline.
“Maybe he will. Anyway, I have to go.” Betty patted his arm. “It’s almost your turn, anyway. Thanks for coming to her signings. I know she’s thrilled about that.” She walked away clutching her book.
Aidan figured she’d paid full price for it, too, because she wanted to support her daughter’s career. He admired that kind of loyalty.
Just then, the woman in front of him walked away with her signed book, which left him as the only autograph seeker in the vicinity. Emma’s scent hit him full force, and he steeled himself against the urge to reach across the table and pull her right out of her chair and into his arms.
That the thought crossed his mind was a warning signal. Years of training had subdued his animal instincts, but no amount of training would eliminate them completely. He would be careful.
“Aidan Wallace!” Emma smiled as she stood and held out her hand. “I saw you in the audience and I was hoping you’d stick around.”
Aidan put down the book in order to take her hand. “Had to get an autograph before you head off on your tour.” Her hand was ice cold, and he unconsciously sandwiched it between both of us. Not good. He released her hand and cleared his throat. “Congratulations on your new book.”
“Thank you, Aidan.” Her blue eyes sparkled in welcome, but her makeup couldn’t disguise purple smudges underneath those incredible eyes.
She needed a vacation, not a book tour. He thought of his ancestral home near Sitka, Alaska. The remote lodge surrounded by cozy log cabins was his favorite retreat in the world, and he had the insane urge to take her there so she could rest. Ah, but they would do more than rest. And there was the rub.
So instead he made pleasant conversation. “I hear you’re headed off to Chicago in a few days.”
“Right!” Her enthusiasm didn’t ring true, but if she dreaded the tour, she couldn’t very well mention that in front of her publisher’s representative. She turned to the woman in black. “Jenny, this is Aidan Wallace. Aidan, Jenny Dunn handles PR for the company and was kind enough to come with me tonight.”
“It’s the least I could do, considering how hard Emma works.” Jenny shook hands with Aidan. “It’s nice to meet you, Aidan. I’ve seen your father a few times in the office.”
Aidan nodded. “He and Roger Claymore go way back.”
Emma braced both hands on the table as she gazed at him with a bemused expression. “I didn’t realize your father and Roger were old friends. Your father should have snagged you an advance copy of the book.”
“He did.” All in the name of research to supplement Emma’s growing file.
“And you’re still buying one?” She pushed it gently back toward him. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, I do.” He gave the book a nudge back in her direction. “The copy I read was one of those soft cover deals.” And he’d marked it up looking for clues that she’d hooked up with the werewolf world. “I want an autographed hardback for my bookshelf.”
Jenny nodded in approval. “Very cool.”
“Yes, it is.” A soft light came into Emma’s eyes as she looked at him. Then she sat down and picked up her pen. “I’m honored to have a place on your bookshelf.”
Aidan felt a stab of guilt and quickly reminded himself that he’d been a fan before he’d started spying on her. He really did want an autographed copy for the section of his bookshelf devoted to her, but coming to the reading tonight had been primarily to see if any werewolves showed up.
Jenny began gathering bookmarks and flyers from the table. “I hope you two won’t think I’m rude, but my daughter has a cold and my husband’s home with her. If you’re okay with it, Emma, I’d like to get back and check on them.”
Emma glanced up, her pen still poised over Aidan’s open book. “Of course! Go! And thanks so much for being here. That email I got late this afternoon freaked me out a little, but I’m fine, now.”
Ah, ha. Aidan was proud of his casual response considering the alarm bells clanging in his head. His crew had been monitoring her emails several times a day but since nothing interesting had popped up he’d told them to cut back to once in the morning. “Crazy fan?”
“I guess so. Some guy claims he’s a werewolf. Wants to show me what a real werewolf is like.”
Holy shit. Aidan did his best to stay calm. “Sounds like a nut.”
“Or some lonely soul trying to get a date.” She smiled at him. “I guess he imagines I actually believe in werewolves.”
That was news he could use. “I take it you don’t?”
She went back to autographing his book. “The day I start believing in the fantasy I created is the day they’ll have to chase after me with a butterfly net.”
Aidan mentally sighed in relief. He was good at reading people and Emma seemed perfectly sincere. She couldn’t very well have a mole inside the werewolf community if she didn’t believe in werewolves. His job was over except for one thing – she might have attracted the attention of a rogue, after all.
“That email was sort of creepy, though.” Jenny tucked all the publicity materials into a satchel and hooked the straps over her shoulder. “We can still send somebody with you on tour. It’s not too late and Roger’s completely okay with that.”
Send me. Aidan saw a golden opportunity and vowed to take advantage of it.
Emma shook her head. “That’s a waste of money. You’ve lined up media escorts at each stop. The hotels are secure. I’m not worried.”
“Has anybody done a reverse trace on the email?” Aidan wanted to get his hands on it in the worst way. He could notify his tech guys to pull it up, but going through Emma might be the simplest. A plan was forming in his mind.
“We tried,” Jenny said. “Nothing came up.”
Aidan didn’t want to appear too eager even though he was chomping at the bit. “I handle security for Wallace Enterprises. I might be able to figure it out for you.”
“You’re a security expert?” Emma gave him an assessing glance. “Somehow I thought you were on Wall Street.”
“I have a cousin who is, but I went a different route.”
“I’m thrilled he’s in security,” Jenny said. “If you’ll give me your email address, Aidan, I’ll send over what Emma forwarded to me. The guy’s probably a harmless kook, but if we could pinpoint where he is, that would be valuable.”
Aidan pulled out a business card from an inside pocket of his suit jacket and handed it to Jenny. “Considering my dad’s history with Roger Claymore, the service will be gratis.” He’d play this as if he needed Jenny’s cooperation to get that email.
“You should charge your regular fee.” Emma finished the autograph and closed the book. “If they were going to send somebody along on the tour, they can certainly afford your expert advice.”
“It won’t take long enough to justify a bill.” Aidan was still planning to turn this into a bodyguard assignment. Although he didn’t consider Emma weak, she was ill-prepared to confront a werewolf. No good could come of it, either for her or for the packs living in various North American cities.
“I appreciate the offer.” Jenny accepted the card and tucked it into her pocket. “I’ll send the email first thing in the morning. Emma, take a cab home. I realize you’re a subway kind of girl, but no more of that until we figure this out.”
“I have a car and driver,” Aidan said, knowing she wouldn’t approve of his luxury Town Car. “I’ll see that she gets home safely.”
Emma glanced up at him. “Thank you, but that’s not necessary.”
“Em.” Jenny sent her pointed glance. “A security expert who also happens to be a Wallace and who loves your books has offered to run a trace on that email for free, and now he’s prepared to get you home safely. As a representative of your publisher, I insist you accept that offer.”
“Okay, but I think it’s kind of silly.”
Jenny nodded. “Thanks, Em. Talk to you tomorrow. Nice meeting you, Aidan.” With a wave, she walked away.
“There you go.” Emma pushed the book back across the table. “And you certainly don’t have to chauffeur me home tonight. You must have a million things to do that are more important.”
“Can’t think of any.” He put on his top coat before picking up the book. “Are you ready to go?” He was still sorting through the possibilities of the email. The sender could be a nutcase or a werewolf willing to betray his pack to impress a woman, which made him a werewolf nutcase. Whoever it was could be unpredictable.
She sighed and her shoulders dropped. “Truthfully, I’d love a ride home in a luxury car instead of a taxi. I doubt your car will be emitting any more greenhouse gases than the taxi, and it’s been a long day.”
Following a long night. He’d kept track of her through most of it, and she’d spent the wee hours finishing her manuscript instead of sleeping. “Let me call Ralph.” He pulled his BlackBerry from inside his jacket and speed-dialed his driver. “Yes, I’m ready. Down by the front door. I have a passenger to drop off in the Village.”
Then he cringed. He wasn’t supposed to know where she lived. He hoped she was too tired to notice the slip. Now he had to hope Ralph would remember to ask her for the address as if he didn’t know it. If Aidan had been in wolf form, he could have sent Ralph a telepathic message, but in human form he had to rely on his cell.
“I do appreciate this.” Standing, Emma grabbed her coat and purse from a neighboring chair before walking around the table to join him. “I love meeting readers, but my cheeks hurt from smiling.”
“I’ll bet. Let me help you with your coat.”
“Oh.” She looked a little disoriented but handed it over and set her purse on the table so he could slide the coat over her arms and onto her shoulders.
Although manners had been heavily ingrained in Aidan since a young age, he wasn’t in the habit of lying to himself. Manners hadn’t been his main reason for helping her with the coat. He’d wanted the chance to move closer, to let his fingers brush the red silk of her dress, to feel the warmth of her body swirl as the coat went on.
None of that fit into his plan to be careful. When she lifted her blonde hair off the nape of her neck to settle it over the coat’s collar, he stared at that vulnerable spot and swallowed. He wanted her too much. He should turn this job over to one of his capable staff members. But he knew he wouldn’t.
“Thank you.” She glanced back at him. “You have an Old World charm about you, Aidan. It’s nice.”
Nice. If she only knew the thoughts he was having, the growl of primitive need he was choking back. “I’m sure you’re tired. We should get going.”
“I am tired.” She picked up her purse and started toward the front of the store. “But I can hardly complain. My books are doing well, and this kind of success doesn’t come along every day.”
He followed as they wound their way through the book aisles. “I’ve often wondered if readings are stressful for writers.” And Dougie-boy hadn’t shown up to give her moral support or take her out afterwards for a little celebration. The more he learned about the guy, the less he liked him.
“The extroverts don’t mind them, I suppose, but for introverts like me it can be a challenge sometimes. So how did you know I lived in the Village?” she asked over her shoulder.
Apparently she wasn’t that tired if she’d picked up on his slip. He’d have to lie. “Must have read it in an interview somewhere.”
“That’s possible. I’ve asked reporters not to mention stuff like that, but sometimes it gets in, anyway. Fortunately I don’t have a huge problem with people pestering me.”
“I promise not to pester you.” Another lie. He planned to stick to her like fur to polyester. He doubted the email she’d received had come from anyone in the Wallace pack. The Wallaces had some interesting family dynamics and not everyone got along, but nobody would take the chance of sabotaging the whole operation.
He suspected the rogue, if that’s who had sent the email, belonged to another pack, and if so, Aidan planned to get himself assigned as Emma’s bodyguard for the entire book tour. His father could talk Roger Claymore into it by giving the publisher a smoking rate for Aidan’s services.
There was a good chance that when Emma left for Chicago, Aidan would be on the plane with her, unless someone in the family figured out that he craved this woman. Then he’d have to take himself off the case.
He rebelled at that idea even as he acknowledged the wisdom of it. He didn’t trust the job to anyone else and he was determined to protect Emma from any potential threat. Including him.
Somewhere between leaving the autograph table and stepping into the frigid cold of a New York February night Emma must have clicked over from tired to over-tired, because she was suddenly wide awake. Or maybe it was the extremely masculine presence beside her that had recharged her batteries.
She’d always realized Aidan was hot. No woman could help noticing those shoulders, which filled out his custom-made suit without benefit of padding. Because she’d only seen him in a suit, she had to guess whether he had a nice butt, but she’d be willing to bet he did.
He had the kind of jaw that usually showed up in shaving commercials, a strong nose, and a high forehead. She suspected he was easily as intelligent as he looked. Thick hair the color of chocolate and eyes the shade of warm caramel added up to one yummy guy.
But he’d given no indication he was interested in her personally. She was probably the only one who’d been affected by their brief contact when he’d helped her on with her coat. She doubted he found anything cozy and intimate about sharing the back seat of his Town Car with her, either.
She’d expected him to wear some pricey cologne, but it must be subtle, because she didn’t recognize any particular brand. Instead he just smelled clean, and she had the inappropriate urge to bury her nose in the side of his neck.
She wouldn’t, of course, because she was with Doug, even though he was currently on her shit list. Surely he could have chucked his Rotary Club meeting so he could be here tonight. It was her first signing since they’d moved their relationship from professional to personal, and his excuse that he already had an autographed book didn’t sit well with her. He could have bought one for his mother.
True, she hadn’t been much of a girlfriend the past couple of weeks with her deadline looming. She wasn’t sure how great a girlfriend she was, period, considering how much quality time she spent writing and how little quality time she spent with Doug. Maybe a writer wasn’t meant to have a boyfriend. Maybe he was justified in missing the signing.
But she hadn’t had a chance to tell him about the creepy email from the guy who thought he was a werewolf. Then again, Doug might not take it seriously. She kind of liked that Aidan Wallace, who had to be worth a gazillion dollars, did.
She definitely liked the mode of transportation Aidan had provided. On principal she was opposed to a mega-expensive car dedicated to ferrying one person all over Christendom, but sinking down onto the butter-soft leather, she’d almost moaned in delight. Tomorrow Aidan would trace the email and she’d be back on the subway as always. Tonight Jenny had practically forced her to ride like royalty, so she’d ditch the guilt.
The older man in the front seat wore a sweatshirt and jeans instead of a chauffer’s uniform, but chauffering was clearly his function. He pulled the car smoothly into traffic. “What address in the Village, Aidan?”
The guy spoke like a friend instead of an employee, and Emma’s democratic little heart warmed. Money shouldn’t give anyone the right to act superior, in her opinion. She leaned forward to give him the address. “It’s –”
“Wait.” Aidan laid a hand on her arm. “I just realized something.”
So had she. She didn’t want to go home yet. His lingering touch, even through her wool coat and silk dress, was wildly exciting. Awareness sizzled in all her pleasure centers, and now she was really awake. She hadn’t had this kind of instant reaction to a man in ages. In fact, she’d told herself that she’d outgrown such craziness, even though she wrote about it all the time.
He glanced at her, his eyes in shadow. “You might not want me to know where you live.”
She almost laughed. If it weren’t for Doug, she’d show him exactly where she lived and invite him in for coffee. Maybe all he admired was her writing talent, but given time, that might change.
“I could call a limo service instead of taking you home personally,” he said. “That might be better.” The dim light of the car’s interior emphasized the rugged line of his jaw and brought out the chiseled beauty of his cheekbones. He looked mysterious, sexy, and damned near irresistible.
Oh, baby. “I don’t care if you know where I live. I just –” She hesitated as she debated the wisdom of saying what was on her mind. She’d love to go somewhere for a drink to celebrate the twin victories of meeting her deadline and launching a new book. When Doug had crapped out and her mother had begged off, she’d thought of suggesting it to Jenny, but Jenny had a sick kid at home.
That left her in the company of Aidan Wallace, a certified hunk who had voluntarily shown up at her signing, and for the third time, too. It wasn’t even ten yet, but she doubted he had other plans for tonight or he wouldn’t have been so willing to offer her a ride home.
“Just what?” he prompted.
If she suggested having a drink with him, she’d have to tell Doug about it. He might not love the idea. But Aidan was a fan who certainly wasn’t hitting on her in any way, so this was business, sort of, wasn’t it?
No, it wasn’t. She was momentarily crushing on a gorgeous man who loved her books. Even if Aidan wasn’t attracted to her, her interest in him was no longer casual. Acting on that interest wasn’t fair to Doug, even if he had skipped the signing.
She sighed. “Never mind.”
“Emma, are you afraid to go home? Is it that email?”
“No, it’s not the email.” She didn’t want to turn this into a silly game of twenty questions, so she settled on a partial truth, omitting her ill-advised attraction to him. “Finishing a manuscript always makes me feel like celebrating, but what I need is a good night’s sleep.”
He smiled. “Who says you can’t have both?”
My conscience. But her conscience was no match for the magnetic pull of Aidan Wallace. “Good question.”
Aidan leaned toward the front seat. “Drop us off at Jessie’s, Ralph.”
Ralph hesitated for a fraction of a second. “Sure thing.”
Emma wondered briefly about that hesitation, but the decision had been made and she wasn’t planning to reverse it. Aidan had decided she should celebrate, and celebrate she would. Within the bounds of propriety, of course.
She found Aidan’s take-charge attitude familiar and finally realized why. He behaved like one of her heroes. Of course to really qualify he’d have to be a shifter who could become a wolf whenever he wanted to.
She smiled to herself, thinking of how he’d laugh himself silly over that. But telling him was out of the question. It would be a blatant attempt to flirt, and she wasn’t doing that.
She’d never heard of a night spot named Jessie’s, but that meant nothing. She didn’t get out much. Now there was a huge understatement. Her life had settled into a boring rut, and that was bad for a writer. She needed grist for the mill.
All righty, then. Her guilt could take a long jump off a short pier. She wasn’t simply having a social drink with a very attractive man who could serve as inspiration for her next book. She was also collecting grist for the mill while enjoying the life of a bestselling author, whatever that was supposed to be.
She’d always imagined herself moving to Key West and living like a real writer should – drinking booze in smoky bars and hanging out with all the clever people. Maybe having a glass of wine with a member of an influential New York family was a start.
Ralph swung the car over to the curb and Aidan opened the door. “Thanks, Ralph. I’ll call when we’re ready to leave.”
“We won’t be long,” Emma added as a sop to her still-niggling conscience.
“Take your time. It’s a beautiful night.” Ralph’s manner was relaxed and easy, as if he didn’t mind waiting around.
Emma concluded the man must be both well-paid and well-respected, and her estimation of Aidan, already hovering at good, moved into the excellent range.
Aidan exited the car with the same fluid grace with which he’d entered it. He held out his hand to Emma. Anticipation thrummed in her veins as she placed her hand in his and absorbed his warmth and strength. She wondered if he had a girlfriend, which was a totally inappropriate thought because she had a boyfriend.
Once he’d helped her out of the car he released her hand, which was the right thing to do. They were mere acquaintances, after all. This wasn’t a date, and she’d do well to remember that. He was humoring her desire to party a little.
“This way.” He lightly touched the small of her back to guide her toward a black enameled doorway.
When he used a card key to open the door, he verified her suspicion that he was taking her to a private club. No wonder she’d never heard of it.
The black enameled door opened into a small lobby decorated in greys and blacks with a splash of red here and there. On their right rose a narrow stairway carpeted in red, but no sign indicated where it led.
“Jessie’s is upstairs.” Aidan gestured for her to climb the carpeted steps. “I think you’ll like it.”
She had no doubt she would. So far Aidan’s world had seduced her with luxury, and she expected the same from this exclusive club. Soft jazz filtered down to her as she climbed the stairs. She was aware of Aidan behind her, his footfalls amazingly light considering his solid build.
She’d never realized until tonight how graceful he was. She felt like a klutz in comparison, but then, she’d never claimed to be coordinated. Aidan would be a marvelous dancer. And a marvelous lover. The thought had no business showing up in her head, but there it was, taunting her with possibilities.
At the top of the stairs, a silver-haired man in a tuxedo moved out from behind a tall reception desk and shook Aidan’s hand. “Aidan. It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to be back, Sylvester. This is Emma Gavin. She writes –”
“The werewolf books.” Sylvester eyed her with obvious curiosity. “This is indeed a pleasure. I’ve read them all.”
“I find them fascinating,” Sylvester said. “So detailed.”
“Fortunately I was blessed with a good imagination.”
“You certainly were.” Sylvester exchanged a glance with Aidan. “Table for two?”
“Please.” Aidan helped her off with her coat.
His touch produced the same electric charge as when he’d helped her put it on. She would have to get over that. While Sylvester hung their coats on a rack behind the desk, she gave herself a talking to.
Her self-talk continued as she followed Sylvester through an arched doorway. Having a drink with Aidan was a one-time deal, and she . . . whoa. Had they somehow wandered into an alternate universe? The club seemed to be nestled in a forest, a forest on the second floor of a brick building in the middle of Manhattan.
She couldn’t help staring. “Wow.”
“I thought you’d like it.” Aidan sounded pleased.
“I love it.” She wasn’t sure how the owners had managed the effect, but the trees arching over the small dance floor seemed real, as did the ones scattered around the perimeter of the room.
Tiny white lights winked like fireflies in branches that curved to create intimate bowers for each rough-hewn table. To her right, a live jazz trio played on a moss-covered knoll.
Sylvester led them to a table near the back of the room and held Emma’s chair.
“Thank you, Sylvester.” She glanced back at him. “This is quite a place.”
He smiled at her. “A waiter will be over soon to take your order. Enjoy.” He laid an affectionate hand on Aidan’s shoulder before leaving them.
Awwww. Emma didn’t need more reasons to admire Aidan, but she was getting them, anyway. He obviously inspired friendship and respect among his associates. “Thank you for sharing this place with me,” she said. “I thought we’d just find a little tavern somewhere, but this is breathtakingly beautiful.”
“There’s more. Look up.”
She did, and was dazzled by the night sky, complete with stars, peeking through the foliage. The effect was so real she would swear someone had slid the roof back, except they were in the heart of the city where the lights blocked out the stars completely.
Aidan settled into the chair across from her. “What would you like to drink?”
She continued to gaze upward as she tried to figure out how they’d created the effect. “Chardonnay is fine.”
“That’s it? Nothing more exotic?”
She met his gaze. She always ordered Chardonnay, and if she intended to break out of her rut, she should experiment with a different drink. “Any suggestions?”
“The bartender makes great coffee martinis.”
“Omigod, I have to have one. I love coffee.”
“How would you know that?”
He blinked. “Uh, don’t all writers drink coffee?”
“Not necessarily. Some guzzle gallons of tea, and others survive on Coke. The clichés aren’t always true.” But she thought it was cute that he had such a definite idea of how a writer should behave.
Aidan signaled a waiter and ordered them each a coffee martini.
“This is wonderful.” Emma was grateful for her interesting surroundings because without them she was likely to stare at Aidan the whole time. “It’s like a movie set.”
“We called in some film people to help with the staging.”
“We? Oh, wait, I should have guessed that right away. Private club, your favorite hangout. Of course it belongs to Wallace Enterprises.”
“Yeah, it does. I –” He stopped speaking and glanced toward the arched entryway as a tall blond guy with a build similar to Aidan’s walked into the club. “Looks like you’re about to meet my little brother, Roarke.”
“Is he in security, too?”
“No. Roarke’s an anthropology professor at NYU.”
Emma studied the man who was headed straight toward their table. None of her professors in college had looked like that. Roarke might be younger than Aidan, but he wasn’t little in any sense of the word. She could see the family resemblance in his square jaw and strong nose. “No slackers in the Wallace family, are there?”
“Not so you’d notice.” Aidan rose from the table to greet his brother. “This is a surprise.”
Roarke didn’t smile. “I know.” Barely disguised tension radiated from his powerful frame.
Aidan didn’t seem to notice. “I’d like you to meet Emma Gavin, the author of the werewolf books.”
“Nice to meet you, Emma. I’ve heard plenty about your books.” Roarke still looked grim.
“Good things, I hope.” She wasn’t sure what to make of Roarke’s stern behavior.
“Very good. Sorry to interrupt, but I need to see Aidan for a minute in the foyer.”
Something was wrong. Maybe some security issue had come up, something only Aidan could handle. And yet, Roarke had sent her a wary glance before leaving with Aidan. Crazy as it sounded, she had the feeling that she was part of the problem.
* * *
Roarke spun around to face Aidan the moment they were out of the room. “What the hell are you doing?”
At the challenge in Roarke’s voice, the hairs on the back of Aidan’s neck rose and he fought back a snarl. Reacting like a wolf wouldn’t help matters any. He kept his response mild. “What I was assigned to do.”
“You were assigned to watch her, not bring her into our private club! I counted at least six Weres in that room.” He turned to Sylvester, who leaned casually against the reception desk, arms crossed. “Sylvester makes seven.”
“So? We’re allowed to bring business contacts in here. We’ve always done that.”
“She’s not a business contact. She’s a threat to our survival.”
Aidan worked to control his temper. “If Dad would wait for my report instead of sending you over to chew my ass, he’d discover that Emma is no danger to us. She doesn’t believe in werewolves.”
Roarke’s green eyes glittered. “I suppose she told you that.”
“And you, despite your obscenely high IQ, believed her.”
“I did. I do.”
Roarke blew out a breath in disbelief. “Come on, Aidan. She can’t be making all that up.”
“Just because you and I aren’t that creative doesn’t mean she isn’t. But the problem goes beyond that. It’s possible a rogue has contacted her by email and plans to confront her in person.”
“Did you consider that she contacted him?”
“No. We’ve kept a close eye on all her Internet activity. This is something new, and if it is a rogue, I’ll make sure she never meets him.”
Aidan could have said we’ll make sure she never meets him, but he was no longer willing to share responsibility for Emma’s safety. He would be in charge, which was the only way he could guarantee she’d be all right and the pack’s anonymity would be protected.
Roarke’s belligerence faded. “Have you seen the email?”
“Not yet, but I will. In fact, now that you’ve brought that up, let me take care of something.” Pulling out his phone, he sent a brief message so his tech crew would start the reverse trace.
As he put the phone away, he glanced at Roarke. “Tell Dad I’m here tonight because I’m trying to win her confidence. I’ll know soon what we’re dealing with, and depending on what I find out, Dad might need to get me assigned as her bodyguard for the book tour.”
“Aidan!” Roarke sighed. “Talk about your potential train wreck!”
Aidan’s jaw tightened. “Why?”
“You’re not the one to do this.”
“Of course I am. I’m the most highly trained security specialist we have.”
“And you want her.”
Aidan tried to stare his brother down, but it was no use. Roarke’s senses were as finely tuned as his, and they were brothers, only nineteen months apart. The minute Roarke had walked into the club, he’d known.
So Aidan said the only thing he could. “I’ll control it.”
“What, your johnson?”
That brought a snort from Sylvester.
Usually Aidan rolled with his brother’s cracks, but tonight he wasn’t amused. “The situation, Roarke. I’ll control the situation.”
“You know that’s easier said than done. Having sex with a human is risky in any context, but it’s especially dangerous with this author chick.”
Aidan’s lips curled back from his teeth. “Don’t talk about her like that.”
Roarke groaned. “Damn. You’ve gone alpha. Next you’ll be marking her front door with your scent.”
“I’m tempted. Look, Aidan, don’t go on this book tour, okay? If she has to be watched, send somebody else.”
“I don’t trust anyone else to handle it.”
Roarke threw up his hands. “I see my little intervention came way too late. Dad should never have assigned you to this gig. I’ll bet he hasn’t ever cracked one of her books, has he?”
“I doubt it, but what’s that got to do with anything?”
“She writes good sex.”
“That’s not –”
“Sure it is, Aidan. I picked up a copy of Night Shift today and flipped through it. The woman knows her stuff. On top of that, the studly hero is . . . wait for it . . . a werewolf. You’re Emma’s dream guy. Who wouldn’t get sucked in by that ego trip?”
Clearing his throat, Sylvester stepped from behind the reception desk. “I think Roarke has a point. I’ve read all her books, and if I were twenty years younger . . .”
Aidan knew then that he was in big trouble. Sylvester was a beloved uncle. Yet Aidan had the urge to go for his throat simply because the older man had indicated a sexual appreciation of Emma’s work.
He raked a hand through his hair. “You’re both right. I need to take myself off this assignment. And I will, after we trace the email. Maybe it’s just a kook. Any of the guys can handle a garden-variety kook.”
“Then my work here is done.” Clapping Aidan on the shoulder, Roarke headed for the stairs. “I knew you’d come to your senses, bro,” he said over his shoulder. “You’re too smart to let a woman screw up everything.”
Aidan wasn’t so sure about that. His genius IQ made him very good at his job, but it didn’t seem to be helping him overcome his gut reaction to Emma. And because he couldn’t seem to overcome it, he’d have to assign someone else to guard her. He wondered if he’d be able to do that.