Butch kept his eyes trained on the road ahead, avoiding the hot gaze of the woman next to him. She would have taken a ride with anyone else if she could have, anyone it seemed but her only other alternative—her father. She was stuck with him and had managed to turn a short drive into the Spanish Inquisition.
He pulled his Mustang into the parking lot where Claire had been attacked, and he attempted to turn her interrogation into a conversation.
“I knew your father before he was injured.”
“You were one of the boys in his club.”
Obviously she didn’t know a thing about her father’s occupation or Vivemonde. She’d asked him at least a hundred questions since they’d gotten into his car, firing them one after another shotgun-style across the small space between them. Given strict orders not to disclose anything beyond the barest information and absolutely nothing top secret, avoiding her questions was becoming more difficult by the minute.
His instincts told him to simply radiate a palmful of calm over her, and that would end the unpleasantness, but he’d known other Viven who had their sentences extended on Earth for years for that kind of slip. Besides, it wasn’t too tough to picture where that would lead—clutching the long strands of her hair in his hands, holding her mouth to his as he thrust inside her. Strange that his instincts were moving in that direction in the first place. On Earth, for almost ten years now, he’d never once considered it. Until now. Yeah. No palmful of calm.
Instead, he was trying, without much success, to ignore the questions as well as the lyrical sound of her voice.
“Did you hear me? I asked if you were in—”
“Yeah.” He rolled his window down and took a deep breath. “I’m in his club.”
Dennis Tito was Earth’s first space tourist and had paid twenty million dollars to board the International Space Station in 2001. Butch had traveled through space years earlier than that and hadn’t had to pay a dime. All he’d done to earn this trip was piss off his boss on his home planet of Vivemonde. The day he landed on Earth, Dirk Simonson, captain of UMI, the US government’s secret UFO military initiative, and trainer of CETs, convicted extraterrestrials, became his new boss.
Simonson was intelligent but related to all Viven only as their leader. He could be blunt to the point of cruelty and was not above being vindictive. Over the nearly ten years Butch had been assigned to him on Earth, he’d known no one as demanding as Dirk Simonson. At least not until Claire had gotten into his car. Ahlif ad ratsog
or “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree” was a saying that obviously spanned the universe.
She wasn’t especially cruel, but she had “demanding” down to a science.
Most females got along with him, seemed to like him even. When he’d shown up in the parking lot, she’d liked him. Not so much anymore. Butch reminded himself that she didn’t want him to be here any more than he did. This was just another job, his last one before he could board the ship headed for home.
“Why did he pick you?”
“You already knew me—that was your father’s reasoning. He thought you’d be more receptive to a bodyguard if he weren’t a complete stranger. You and I met ten years ago.” And I’d just landed on the planet, he thought but didn’t add.
“I don’t remember you.”
“I remember you.” His instincts had been right about her then too. Even in her early years, she had shown a strong will, and unlike the women of his planet, Earth women were self-sufficient and opinionated. As soon as he’d reached out to her in the hospital room—one intraskin communication confirmed it—she was kindred, the worst kind of trouble. Definitely one to stay away from.
But she needed him, and he needed to do this job, finish his sentence and get out of Dodge, just like Harvey Keitel said in Pulp Fiction
. Man, if there was one good thing about being sent to this place, it was movies.
“That gives us exactly…forty minutes to get the fuck out of Dodge. Which, if you do what I say when I say it, should be plenty. Now, you’ve got a corpse in a car, minus a head, in a garage. Take me to it.’”
“Nothing; it was a movie I saw once. You were saying?”
“I was saying I don’t remember you, and besides, that club—”
“It’s not a club
. It’s a unit.”
“How much longer will you be in this ‘unit’ then? How long are you going to be bothering me?”
The twist of her mouth as she said the word left little room for interpretation. She might not know much about her father’s work, but she knew enough to hate it. “I’m in for a little while longer.”
“How much longer?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I’m here until we find out who tried to kidnap you.” Kind of. He was here until his time was up and not one minute more.
“It was not a kidnapping attempt! Why does everyone keep saying that?”
Her voice was starting to get under his skin, and not in a safe way. The captain wouldn’t like the direction of his thoughts. She perched on the edge of the seat, her slacks torn at one knee and covered in a chemical humans called “oil,” not unlike the ghorol
on his own planet. The sweater she wore had been white but was now covered in smudges of dirt. The large white square of gauze covering half her forehead was held down with medical tape.
A dirty and injured kindred—she was still gorgeous.
“Would you save the third degree until I’ve had some sleep?”
“I’m not tired.”
He turned to stare at her. What kind of egocentric—Why should he care if she was tired or not? He locked his jaw to keep from saying exactly that. She was trying to get to him, and he would not give her the satisfaction.
He drove toward her car, slamming the gearshift into second, turning the wheel, and heading across the lot diagonally The force of the acceleration in this gravity pressed her back against the seat. Why would she park two hundred yards from the entrance? He hadn’t seen her exit the building, and he’d already had his ass handed to him for that mistake. She’d walked all the way across this lined pavement alone, oblivious to any threat.
Butch pulled his Mustang alongside the Honda Civic parked in the darkness of the trees. He couldn’t think about what could have happened if… He cleared his throat. “I thought you owned this place. Don’t they have preferred parking for the boss?”
“I can park wherever I like. I need the exercise.”
You’ll get a hell of a workout if you get raped and beaten
, he wanted to say but kept his mouth shut. He couldn’t afford to blow this. One last job, and he could go home. Butch had hoped the Auquerel
was finally smiling down on his wish to return home, and this was too good to be true.
He’d been half right.
The thought of someone hurting this particular woman, though, was stirring an unusual and unwanted anger inside him. Yeah, she needed to get out of his car.
She pulled a set of keys out of her pocket. “Listen, Butch. We don’t have to do this. You can tell my father you’re doing your job, and I’ll tell him the same. You can have a few days off, maybe do something fun. I can go about my business. You’ll still get paid, and everyone will be happy. My father need be none the wiser. Problem solved. What do you think?”
“Claire,” he said, then stopped himself. Giving into the unexpected anger raging through him wouldn’t help this situation, and he couldn’t palm her. He took a deep breath. “I have this job, and you are not going to make me blow it off.”
She turned toward him, and even in the semidarkness of the car her sage green eyes flickered. “What will it take for you to forget about it?”
“The day I find the man who attacked you and he goes to jail, it’ll be the first thing I forget. Until then, not a chance”
“This is all so unnecessary. It was one random thing—”
“Yes, I recall your conversation with your father. You couldn’t convince him, but you thought I’d agree with you? Why? Because you’re beautiful?” The words were out of his mouth before he realized he’d said them. Boondan. What an idiot. The memory of her in his arms for those few seconds was much too clear. He absolutely had
to start thinking before he spoke.
Without missing a beat, she shot back, “This is an invasion of my privacy.”
“Damn, woman! You know what this is?” He gripped the steering wheel tighter to try to control the unwanted fury and unbelievable draw of her flesh. He gritted his teeth and tried not to breathe in the sweet fragrance of her hair. He focused far into the darkness. “Someone tried to hurt
you. No matter what you told the captain, I know you know that. What is wrong with you? Am I that repulsive?”
Boondan. He’d done it again. Her glittering eyes flashed fire in the semidarkness. “This has nothing to do with you, and there is nothing wrong with me
.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “You were hired, and now you’re talking to me that way? Where’d that gentleman go, I wonder? You think my father would like that tone?”
He sucked in a breath and tried to think through his response before speaking. She shifted around in her seat, and the sweet smell of the air around her wafted toward him again. What in the name of Auquerel had he been about to say? Oh yeah. Throwing her father up in his face. If she thought pissing him off was going to make him blow off this job, she had another think coming.
“I’ll tell you what, Claire. As a gentleman, I’ll let you decide. What’s it going to be? Either you don’t want your father in your business—or you do. And while you’re deciding, get in your car and I’ll follow you home.”
Butch leaned across the seat to reach for the door handle. She sat back with a start and put her hands in front of her. Her eyes flashed again, this time with something other than anger. “I don’t want you to follow me home.”
That was a lie, whether she knew it or not. Her perfume was suddenly eclipsed by the call of her pheromones in the confined space. His senses now on high alert, her small body was burning, and his had already begun to respond. The same tightening he’d felt in his midsection while watching her in the hospital moved a fraction lower. He had to get her out of here, and now.
He ignored unwanted thoughts of pulling her upheld hands around his waist and holding them behind his back. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to ignore her body’s chemical messages filling the air.
“What’d you think? That I was going to do something to you?” He shoved the door open, then turned to her, his face mere inches from hers. “Claire, let’s get something straight, okay? I’m here to stop people from doing anything to you. I was too late earlier. That’s not going to happen again. Got it?”
“What possible difference could it make to you if I live or die?” Her voice was quiet now, almost a whisper. Her hands trembled.
He shook his head and fought off the overwhelming urge to touch her lips with his own. He’d never kissed a kindred, had steered clear of them for good reasons, but if she didn’t get out in the next sixty seconds…
He leaned even closer to her, the scent of her rapid breaths filling his nostrils. “Are you going to get out, or am I going to carry your shapely behind out?”
He was a big guy, and intimidating when he wanted to be—he knew that. He’d never strong-armed a woman, but he could if he had to. Logical reasoning had had no effect. What remained was forcing the facts of life into her gorgeous head. He tipped her chin up, his nose almost touching hers. “Make no mistake about this, Claire. I’m with you for the duration.”
She smiled then, a slow, seductive grin that made her eyes twinkle and his groin clench like a fist. Warning bells rang loud and clear inside his head.
“Well, all right then. Thank you for the ride. I guess I’ll see you in the morning. Want to meet me at my house around nine? That’s when I usually leave for work. I have a full day tomorrow.”
He shook his head. “You go to work at six. I’ll be waiting for you downstairs by five thirty.”
She watched him for a long moment, the smile fading away before his eyes. “Fine!”
Claire Simonson kicked the open door and practically jumped out of the Mustang. Butch waited until she’d gotten inside her car and the engine turned over. When she peeled out of the parking space and sped across the lot, her headlights bouncing crazily over the pavement, he leaned over and pulled the passenger door closed.
“What a pain in the ass.” He put the car in reverse, backed up, and turned on the captain’s GPS tracker. Pulling the laptop from under the passenger seat, he logged on to Google Earth with the captain’s log-in information and noted a small red dot moving onto the main road out of the parking lot. He almost felt sorry for her. What kind of father put a GPS tracker on his grown daughter’s car?
He shook his head, put the car in first gear, and followed the directions given by three satellites to the laptop. He remembered a line from a movie he’d seen years ago and laughed.
“I picked a hell of a day to stop sniffing glue.”