Guarded Heart

guarded heartSomeone is trying to kill high priest Morgan Seaton, but the last person he wants protecting him is people-hater Brook Calder—a fellow Water witch from his youth. He values the witches of his coven too much to put them in danger from her shoot-first-ask-questions-later methods. But the head of Neptune’s Rangers assures Morgan that Brook is the best of the best, and attempts on his life are a weekly occurrence, so Morgan has no choice but to accept the help from the one witch he’s never been able to persuade.

If they can stop giving into their scorching desire everywhere—including the back of a limo or the bathroom floor—he might survive long enough to find out who wants him dead.

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Morgan had barely kept his hands to himself when the Ranger had joined him and his companions minutes ago. He’d wanted to caress her generous breasts through the silk until her nipples strained for release. He would have settled for a hand at her waist. Touching her had become integral to the success of his evening. That meant Mira had to go.

For her own safety, of course.

Morgan nudged her toward the coat check. “I’ll tell anyone who asks that you came only because I’d asked and your illness sent you home.”

“What illness? I feel fine.” She dug the heels of her designer pumps into the gaudy-patterned carpet. “Really, Morgan—”

“It’s too dangerous,” he said for the seventh time, ignoring the satin fabric beneath his fingers as he pressed her shoulder toward the counter because acknowledging it would invite comparisons to other satin fabrics.

“Whoever it is would be foolish to try anything at a party,” she said.

Was that why Brook had let him walk out without her? Thank the god of the ocean the Ranger couldn’t read his silent irritation that she hadn’t shackled herself to his hip. Or something a little closer to the center.

Morgan scrubbed a hand over his face. “I was nearly shot. In public. I’m taking no chances with anyone.”

“But yourself.”

“As I told you. It would be suspicious if I hid away.”

“That’s ridiculous—”

“And whoever it was would take it out on those I care for.” He hadn’t meant to look Mira in the eye when he spoke the words. No doubt she’d read it as a soulful gaze—one with far more emotion behind it than he meant to broadcast. For a Water witch, Mira was obtuse regarding the emotions of others. But then he had been with her as well.

“Please,” he said with a low sigh. “I take my people’s safety very seriously.”

“But you don’t take your own seriously.”

“I will. In fact, I shouldn’t be away from Brook for long.”

Mira’s eyes narrowed into fine slivers. The drawing sensation coincided with what he’d felt from her the moment he’d spotted her dark head of hair. Jealousy still. Morgan might have assured her there was nothing to concern herself over. He didn’t.

A part of him, initially small but quickly widening with disturbing speed, wanted Brook despite their vast differences. Perhaps because of them.

“Take care, Mira,” he said in distraction when the line opened for his assistant to fetch her things. “I’ll call…”

He didn’t finish his thought because he’d forgotten what it was, if he’d known to begin with. How could he remember a damn thing when his attention was riveted on her?

How had Irvin persuaded Brook to dance? And why did the formerly gangly female have to move with grace foreign to a tomboy? How had she learned to move like that?

Who had taught her?

Never before had Morgan felt inclined to harm his uncle. But the hand inches below Brook’s flared hips should have been his, not Irvin’s. And never had he experienced the urge to drag a woman out by her hair.

The image of his fingers slicing through those spiked, cropped locks flared in his mind’s eye. He’d let the tips of his digits linger at her nape until she shivered with desire. Only when he’d drawn a reaction with the heat of his gaze would he slide the straps of her gown over her bare shoulders.

Morgan’s cock roused when Brook’s gaze met his across the dance floor. And she shivered. Deliberately he stepped to the wall rather than cut into their dance. He couldn’t be trusted. Laughable that, considering he was the most principled male he knew. Brook had always gotten him in the worst trouble.

His uncle sent a glance over his shoulder. Irvin’s lips quivered in the mere moment Morgan had seen his face. And then he was bent over Brook’s figure, whispering in her ear. Morgan’s chest tightened at the sight of them in the intimate embrace.

Brook jerked her head to the right. A shapely shoulder appeared beyond Irvin’s frame. As soon as Morgan had seen it, it disappeared behind his uncle’s body.

Frustration. Hers. He could feel it across the room without an empathic link. Morgan shot forward in time to hear her protesting.

“He’s a sitting duck alone over there and I don’t want to dance.”

“You were dancing peacefully while he stroked Mira,” Irvin said before he realized Morgan was within earshot.

Stroked Mira? Was the male trying to make Brook jealous? Morgan’s gaze switched to hers, eager to know if it had worked. Her eyes were narrow, but the emotion he noted when his empathic link snapped into place wasn’t jealousy. No, it was more irritation.

Brook Lochlan was one giant ball of vexation—a sexy ball in a slinky gown that left little to the imagination.

But she wasn’t Brook Lochlan any longer. How could he have forgotten she’d married?

He knew how. Morgan hadn’t wanted to remember. Lust had made him stupid.

“May I cut in?” he asked of his uncle now that he’d successfully iced his baser needs.

“If you must,” Irvin said with stiffness he ordinarily reserved for their opposition. “We were enjoying each other’s company.”

A glance at Brook merited no assistance. Her plump lips were set together as they often were, neither thinner nor poutier than normal. She’d been arguing when he’d arrived. But she wasn’t arguing now even though Irvin had lied.

Or had Morgan misunderstood what he’d overheard? It would have been easy, especially given how badly he’d wanted to believe she hadn’t been enjoying herself.

Still Morgan stepped into their space. Irvin released her waist and her hand and then moved with a mocking flourish to the left.

“Do try to enjoy the rest of the dance.” Irvin’s sardonic emphasis pointed out the fleeting moments left in the ensemble’s current piece. He sauntered into the crowd without a backward glance.

Morgan’s attention slipped away, settling upon Brook’s face—her glaring face.

“I was getting somewhere with him when you interrupted,” she said.

“You were trying to stop dancing when I interrupted.”

“What I was saying and what I was doing were two different things.”

“You?” Morgan brought his head back to give her a once-over. The motion was meant to be feigned incredulousness—a mocking gesture she’d surely understand. Instead, Morgan had noted how the silky fabric of the gown skimmed her inner thighs far too closely. Lust he’d thought he’d conquered melted his brief, icy resolve.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she ground out before recognizing the scene they created. Brook stomped forward in her silver sandals. She grabbed hold of his hands, setting one to her waist and the other out to the side, exactly as he should have done.

It was an open invitation to touch her. And touch her he did, forming his fingers over her firm hip. Her breasts thrust between them, barely avoiding the brush of his chest. Morgan didn’t allow himself the pleasure of stepping forward to fix that.

“It means that you don’t like pretending,” he said when she cleared her throat in noisy impatience. “The old Brook Lochlan wouldn’t have said one thing and done another.”

“The old Brook Lochlan wasn’t a Ranger,” she said at a volume the vanilla humans wouldn’t hear. “She still doesn’t like pretending, but sometimes it’s required for the job. And what the crap am I doing speaking about myself in the third person? There is no Brook Lochlan anymore. There’s only me. Brook Calder.” Her profile swung away—an avoidance tactic.

“I never thought I’d see the day you’d be a married woman.”

Brook’s gaze snapped back, fixing on his probing eyes. Confusion. It wasn’t in her expression but he sensed it in her. He sensed everything—the frustration, the confusion, the resentment and the desire.

The link wobbled. Uncertainty. And then she opened her mouth. “I’m not married.”

Morgan experienced brief relief that he hadn’t been drooling over a married woman for days. Words tumbled from his mouth he’d not meant to ask her. “Is that against Ranger rules?”

She gave a mirthless laugh. “No.”

“Were you married?”

“Priest Seaton, the surname is my mother’s. I took it after my father died. You could have asked instead of fishing.”

“Fishing is what Water witches do best.”

“No, Water witches feel emotions best. And yours are all over the place. Focus on one. It will help you calm the others.”

“You don’t want me to focus on one, Brook.”

Her head tilted to the right, a weary expression that didn’t fit what he sensed from her. “You’re just going to have to fight it.”

“What if I don’t want to fight it?” He let his hand slip down her hip to her derrière. It clenched beneath his palm—a taut, wonderful bit of muscle he imagined gripping while he plunged into her repeatedly.

And then his hand headed up when he realized he’d brushed nothing beneath her gown. He searched for the band, for the line of elastic that had to circle her hips.

“What are you doing?” came her sharp voice when his fingers grazed up her hip to her waist.

Morgan leaned forward, setting his lips to her ear. “You wore panties, Brook, you had to.”

“In this thing? Are you crazy?” She tried to pull away but he clamped his arms around her waist, holding her where she was. “I didn’t have anything that wouldn’t show.”

Using her to hide the erection straining at his tuxedo slacks probably wasn’t the best of ideas. But it was her fault. “Neptune’s net, are you trying to drive me mad?”

“Of course not—”

He inhaled the brisk scent of her skin near his lips, barely resisting the urge to kiss the tender patch behind her ear. He believed her. It wasn’t simply that he experienced her indignation.

Brook wouldn’t intentionally try to seduce him. Morgan doubted she’d know the first thing about making a male lust after her. And that made him want her more.

“Next time you force me into formalwear, I’ll be sure to wear panties,” she said breathlessly.

“See that you do, or I guarantee you won’t be in your formalwear for long.”

Morgan shoved away from her, unable to stand her sweet heat, firm body and thrilling scent a moment longer. He didn’t look back no matter how badly he wanted to know if her nipples strained the fabric. Because if he did, he knew he’d drag her out by the hair exactly as he’d wanted to minutes earlier.

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