About Vigilante's Dare
For small-town girl Emily Barton, running her animal-assisted therapy clinic in the big city is mayhem enough without slotting gun-toting kidnappers, a talking owl, and a half-naked, masked criminal into her planner. Unfortunately, that's just what this animal empath has to do when sensationalist headlines catch a deranged syndicate boss’s attention. He won't be denied: Emily will heal his son's terminal cancer, or she will die.
Good thing her masked protector won't be denied either: Jay will keep Emily safe, even if the cost is her heart.
Jay McLelas, a.k.a. Ninja, has done more crime than crime-fighting lately. He’s convinced he's too far over the gray line to be anything close to the white knight Emily deserves--the sweet, sensitive one he can only allow himself to be by the light of day. But a scorching, soul-binding kiss proves she’s the key to stabilizing his supernatural night vision. He can't afford to let her go. If Jay can’t keep the syndicate from hunting her, if he doesn't dare trust her with who he is and what he's done...how can he be worthy of her at all?
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 113,337 Words
Billionaire Boy Next Door
Heroine with Superpowers
Vigilante's Dare Excerpt
Frowning at the broken chain lock dangling from the back of the door, Jay McLelas twisted the deadbolt. He tapped the button on his earbud communicator. "I'm in."
Cinnamon and a hint of apple hit his nose as his silent feet padded through the darkness of apartment 504's tiny kitchen. Out of habit, he checked the leather mask over the top half of his face. Secure. Time to get this done. Jay dilated his pupils to amplify his night vision and his gaze swept the room.
Library books about bird care lay scattered across the surface of a battered, round table, and a pair of worn binoculars hung from a nylon strap over the back of the lone wooden chair. A few scattered pairs of shoes—all women's—sat by a couch that looked like it hadn't quite survived an assault by a wild animal. On the counter, a single repeated name glittered on a stack of unopened mail—"Emily Barton. Looks like she lives here alone."
"Civilian. You're clear." His brother's familiar baritone rumbled over the earpiece. "Set all three bugs on Tyrel's place. Nine feet of wire. I want every word nice and crisp. And make it fast. I've got a bad vibe with this one."
Zach's danger-meter was never wrong.
"Care to be a little more specific?" Jay flipped open a sturdy pouch at his waist and snagged a screwdriver.
"Just keep your exits open."
He'd no sooner knelt to loosen the vent on the hallway wall when Zach's voice crackled again at his ear.
"Company's comin'! Murphy's got a contract kidnapping out for Ms. Barton."
Jay's attention caught on the door at the end of the hall, where the target would be sleeping. "How much time?"
The sound of fingers tapping across a keyboard skipped over the line. "They're already in the elevator."
"Shit." He tucked the equipment back into his belt. Murphy expected his masked partner to scope out the La Plaza hotel for the next evening's art heist. If the syndicate boss's thugs caught him somewhere else, Jay would have some explaining to do. "I'm taking the north exit," he whispered, slipping into the small bedroom.
Sprawled across a slim mattress and box spring combo that nearly filled the space lay the apartment's sole occupant. A defenseless target.
Why does that bastard want her? Is he trafficking women now, too?
Fury throbbed behind his temples. This woman lived alone, likely too poor to afford a safer neighborhood—let alone sensible door locks. Did Murphy assume no one would miss her?
"What are you waiting for, bro? Get gone!"
Jay gritted his teeth and crept to the bedroom window. As he brushed the girly curtains aside and eased the lower pane upward, heat poured in to fight the air conditioning. Tainted with a sour hint of uncollected refuse; air humid enough to swim in. Nights like these made him rue the need for a disguise that involved a trench coat and jeans—let alone breathing. Dark feathers swooped to block the exit and an angry barred owl pecked at his gloved hand.
"Torpedo, get out of the way," Jay hissed at his surly spirit guide.
Despite being shooed, the predatory bird bobbed his head and flapped his wings wide, adopting a decidedly perturbed expression on his flat face. He let out a low whistle. Owl-speak that translated as save her. Torpedo swiveled to stare at the bed with wide, plaintive eyes and Jay followed the owl's gaze.
A thin cover rose and fell in the slow, deliberate pattern of deep sleep.
Why did she have to be home?
If Murphy was running a new business, Jay could let the thugs take her. He'd follow them into the night and they'd lead him to—What am I doing? I can't just leave her to them. The syndicate boss's lackeys could hurt her if he didn't act now. He swore under his breath.
His fingers were close enough to graze the floral print of the heavy comforter crumpled at the foot of the bed. A ruffled blanket had wormed its way down to her calves and ambient light from the apartment complex's parking lot spilled across Emily's shapely body. Cocooned in that nearly sheer fabric, every curve in evidence—sheer. He abruptly jerked his gaze up to her face.
"What do you want me to do? Kidnap her first? I'm not a magician, Tor." It wasn't like he could convince a naked woman to climb out her window in the middle of the night.
Jay glanced between the bird and Murphy's target, puzzled by Torpedo's violent determination. Protecting Relek City was one thing. Focusing on this specific woman . . . "What's this really about?"
He pushed on his companion-granted ability and took a closer look at her soft, peaceful features. Colors sharpened in the dark. Rich, clear tones cast away the shadows, and his vision homed in on pale skin above the beige sheet, a tinge of pink highlighting pixie-like cheekbones, parted lips stained almost-red.
The thoughts struck without warning, shredded his protests, left him gasping as though he'd been punched with each imperative.
Sharp possessiveness curved like a raptor's beak at his gut.
Save her, Tor's owlish whistle insisted again, and Jay couldn't refuse. Three years of undercover work in the syndicate—none of it mattered. Murphy wasn't getting his hands on this woman.
Just as suddenly part of his brain was back on the rails, working overtime and frantically searching mental scenarios for one that wouldn't blow his cover. He had to give his partner's underlings a reason: the right excuse to stop an abduction. They'd easily believe his feigned ignorance over the contract. Maybe that he'd finished early at La Plaza. But the woman?
He stepped forward, pulling off a glove, sudden inspiration overriding his brain. He couldn't spirit her away, but what if he didn't have to? Would they buy a relationship? Common sense leapt out the window as his fingers halted a whisper away from her cheek. Diving into an intimate scene with the tenant wasn't quite what he'd had in mind when he'd snuck in for recon.
To keep her from Murphy, he had to risk—
"Why're you still there?" Zach sounded ready to pounce through the earpiece.
Startled from his ill-formed plans, Jay jerked back and bumped into the floor lamp in the corner. It wobbled dangerously. Grabbing the pole sent the metal clattering against the wall. He cringed as Emily rolled to her right side and faced the door, but the rhythm of her breathing remained unbroken. A mercifully sound sleeper.
He exhaled once.
Jay laid a hand on the shade to rebalance it and took a judicious step away from the fixture.
"They're on your floor—"
"Don't wait up for me." With a quick jerk, he pushed back his hood and shrugged out of his black trench coat. "And tell Ry I'll be late."
The jacket flared on a breeze from the window as he kicked off his boots and stripped the glove from his other hand. Yanking off his t-shirt and tool belt, he used a bare toe to nudge the latter under the bed where it wouldn't be visible from the doorway. He shoved his pistol into his waistband as an afterthought. If the lie worked, he wouldn't need the gun.
Although I might need a therapist.
Pulling the earpiece out and tossing it with his belt, he caught a muffled string of huffing noises coming from Torpedo's perch on the sill. Laughing. He threw a sideways look at his companion. "This was your idea, feather-head."
The owl took to wing with a hoot that said, too slow, too slow. Jay grabbed an edge of the neglected blankets and slipped underneath, pulling them over the pants he still wore. He wrapped his arms around the outside of Emily's sheet, leaving only a meager layer of protection between them when he pinned her back to his chest.
His groin pulsed with an inconvenient rhythm as she woke and squirmed in panic. Her lips were like ribbons of velvet against the palm he clasped over her mouth.
"I'm not gonna hurt you." His voice came out a husky whisper and Jay fought to curb his body's reaction to her movements and the spicy scent of cinnamon that wrapped around his brain. He plunged ahead with the reckless plan. "Men with guns are here to kidnap you—"
She shrieked and bucked in his arms.
"Not me! I'm help—" Teeth grazed his fingers. On what planet had he thought this would go well? "Play along, Emily. Or we both die."
Unable to wiggle off the other side of the bed, she rolled toward him. Two fists shot out, striking his chest. Hazel eyes were wild with fear and fury.
"Stop fighting me," he growled low in his throat, tangling her arms in the thin cotton with one hand. She kicked his calves instead. "I'm here to stop the men with the guns and nasty tempers and I can't do that if you don't—"
Wood splintered in the kitchen.
They were out of time.
Excerpt from Vigilante's Dare copyright © 2016 by Cera Daniels