Private Investigator, Kat Monroe, is a woman to be reckoned with, an inborn huntress with predatory speed and lightning fast reflexes. Now a sadistic killer has her in his sights. Aiming to take her forward in time, where she’ll be forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena.
Enter Max and Brett Jericho, time traveling supercops on assignment to bring the killer to justice. Even as her world becomes deadlier, Kat is blown away by the gorgeous, future cops. When they all end up in bed together, each man fulfills Kat’s long suppressed desires.
Determined to beat the killer at his own game, Kat opts to travel to the future and set herself up as bait. With her shifter supercops watching her back, what could possibly go wrong?
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Huntress For Hire
Copyright © 2012 Ali Atwood
Cover art by Angela Waters
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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Huntress For Hire
Huntress Chronicles One
“Hey, I’m back. Flew the redeye in from LA and met a great guy on the plane.”
The words came through Kat Monroe’s earpiece as she gunned her SUV through an orange traffic light. Steel-belted radials screeched as she edged her way between a belching metro bus and a suicidal bike messenger.
Finding humor in the madness, Kat’s husky laughter rippled through the cell link. “Hey, bestie, welcome home. I’m battling a traffic jam from hell here. Did you say you’d met a new guy?”
* * * *
“Yes, he’s a freelance photojournalist who lives here in Boston. Hold on…” Switching her cell phone to her other ear, Lora Harrison retrieved her luggage from the carousel and walked from the terminal building to wait for the airport limo. “I gave him my number and we’ll see if he calls.” She sat on a bench, stretching out her shapely legs. “So dish, Monroe. What’s happening with you?”
* * * *
Kat blew out a breath. “Same old, working my ass off trying to sign new clients.”
The women had hooked-up in college and stayed best friends, despite the fact that they were polar opposites in looks and temperament. Kat, an ex-cop turned private investigator, verged on Amazonian proportions, standing a little over six feet. She had silvery-gray eyes accentuated by her dark, sable hair. She was feminine enough to wear it long though she normally braided it for work. Since she’d been forced to conceal a large part of herself from an early age, she could appear aloof at times.
Lora Harrison, an executive chef for a large, catering company, had just returned from a short, business trip to Southern California. A petite, blue-eyed blonde with a bubbling personality and boundless energy, she was nothing if not forthright.
“Stopping stalling, Monroe, I want deets. Have you done the naked deed with anyone since you dumped Josh?”
Passing a high-sided truck, Kat slowed for red light. Her expressive face moving into grimace. “Nada on the sex.”
“Huh. So what is it now, four months?”
“Closer to six and a half.”
Prior to resigning from the Boston PD to open her own investigation agency, Kat had dated Josh Harper, a fellow homicide detective. Though he was fifteen years older than Kat with craggy features that couldn’t be called handsome, he kept his tall, rangy body in good shape and Kat enjoyed his keen sense of humor. Three months into the relationship, Kat walked into the supply room early one morning to find Nancy Murphy, from human resources, on her knees with Josh’s dick in her mouth.
The episode hadn’t been a heartbreaker, since Kat’s heart hadn’t been on the line. Still, she had expected the affair to remain exclusive for as long as it lasted. Since she couldn’t avoid running into Harper on the job, she’d put up a good front. But the incident had played on her insecurities. Lately, she’d begun to wonder if there were any men out there worth shaving her legs for.
“What you need now, girl, is a well-hung guy to erase the memory of that asshole. And since I’ll be in town for a while, I can help you prowl for a likely candidate.”
Kat released a heavy sigh. “Truthfully, Lora, the only thing I want to pursue at present are my career goals.” Her outgoings in the last few months had done some serious damage to her bank account. She needed to pull in some lucrative contracts. “You know as well as I do that a woman trying to build a reputation in a male dominated profession has to work twice as hard to win even a modicum of respect.”
Lora made sympathetic noises. “I hear you, hon. I really do. But mmm, mmm, male dominated. Summons all kinds of erotic images.”
Kat rolled her eyes. “Is there anything that doesn’t summon erotic images for you?”
Lora chuckled. “Nope, I’m a simple woman. My mind undresses every man I meet.” She paused. “Look, sweetie, you know I love you to bits, but the truth is, you’re driven to a fault and it can’t be healthy. You need to lighten up. Forget about work and come clubbing with me tonight. We can analyze the benefits of hot sex over a pitcher of cold Margaritas. With luck we’ll find a couple of guys to help us follow our line of investigation.”
Kat hesitated, thinking about her upcoming appointment with the client that she was hoping to sign. A Mr. Dawson who was keen to find his missing wife and, the large sum of money Mrs. Dawson had lifted from the couple’s joint savings account. To give Dawson confidence in her abilities, Kat had planned to do some preliminary research this evening. “The thing is…I’d envisioned a quick, nuked dinner before I pull an all-nighter for a prospective case.”
There was a short silence. “All right, I want you to be straight with me, are you, A-genuinely bogged down with urgent investigation work, B-determined to hide from men because you’re secretly nursing a broken heart over Josh Harper, or C-avoiding my company because I’ve inadvertently done something to piss you off?”
“What! No. God, Lora, no, it’s got nothing to do with you. You’re my best girl pal forever.” In truth, Kat would like nothing more than to confide in Lora about her sudden fear of sleeping. But she didn’t dare, in case her friend thought she’d gone loopy. Instead, she offered a half-truth, “If I’ve seemed a little off, it’s because I’ve been suffering with insomnia for a couple of weeks. It makes it difficult to concentrate during working hours.”
Lora made a relieved sound. “Okay, well that’s not so bad. So you’ll do a few hours of office work this afternoon, have a night on the town with me, where you might possibly meet someone you want to take home for an uncomplicated fuck. Hey, presto! You’ll sleep like a baby tonight.”
Kat had to laugh. Lora never failed to lift her spirits. “Alright, done, I’m yours to command for the evening.”
“There you go again, conjuring those sexy, bondage images.”
Kat pulled a comical face to herself. “Tie me up, tie me down. I suppose you want to have dinner first?”
Lora chuckled. “I’ll see if I can get us a table overlooking the harbor at our favorite restaurant.” Lora’s cousin owned the seafood restaurant. “What time should I book?”
“Hmm. Eight o’clock, that’ll give me time to get some of the work done.”
There was silence and then a damn from Lora. “Gotta go, hon, the new pastry chef I hired just texted me a nine-one-one. See you at the restaurant.”
Lora hung up as Kat pulled her four-wheel-drive vehicle into the wide, shrubbery-edged driveway leading to her redbrick fixer-upper. Turning off the engine, she popped the trunk, grabbed her briefcase off the passenger seat and walked to the rear of the vehicle for her groceries. As she cast a fond eye over her garden, she noticed the rhododendron bushes were covered with deep, pink blossoms. To her mind, their blooming always marked the transition from winter to spring. She paused to savor the perfect day, lifting her face to let the May sunshine warm it, the spring breeze snagging wisps free from her braid.
Simultaneously, she felt a sudden stirring in the air as her inner wavelengths signaled that something unforeseen was at hand. Turning on her heel, Kat looked back along the length of her gravel driveway, watching a tall man in a long, black coat walk through the entrance.
Thanks to her special abilities, which Kat kept hidden, she didn’t fear strangers the way the average woman might. All the same, she watched the newcomer speculatively until she saw a large, black dog running to catch up with the man who paused to attach a leash to the dog’s collar. With that, Kat assumed the stranger was one of the townies who regularly scouted this area, looking to buy one of the older properties that sat on a large plot. Most of the buyers, like Kat, had reconstruction in mind. Perhaps this guy had walked too far and lost his bearings.
As man and dog approached through the tree-dappled sunlight, the stranger’s features were obscured, but it was clear he was youngish. With a professional eye, Kat logged the rest of his details—height around six feet, weight in the region of one eighty, dark, longish hair and his black coat appeared to be made of leather. Since it was unbuttoned and flapping in the breeze, it reminded Kat of something a cowboy might wear. She almost expected to see a pistol strapped to his hip.
Her gaze drifted down to his canine companion. A large dog with a glossy, black coat that looked to be a cross between a Labrador and a German Shepherd. She was amused to see it had a doggie version of a backpack strapped around its middle.
The stranger waved a hand in greeting. “Good afternoon. A lovely day, is it not?” His voice drifted across to her like a soft rumble of thunder. It was strangely accented, not quite American.
Kat offered a politely enquiring smile. “Yes, a beautiful day.”
She was distracted when the dog started to pull on its leash, making excited, snuffling sounds, obviously eager to greet someone new. Kat loved dogs and hoped to adopt one when she wasn’t working quite so many hours. Now she gazed down into an appealing, canine face, dominated by large, intelligent, brown eyes. The dog wagged its tail in apparent response to her instinctive smile.
“Hello there, sweetie.” She bent to stoke its satiny, black head while the dog licked her fingers. Then it looked up into her eyes and woofed softly, completely charming Kat. “Well aren’t you a darling—” she glanced at its genitals— “boy?” She stroked its head a couple more times before she came upright to speak to the man. Finding her gaze level with the strong column of his throat inside the neckline of his black sweater, she amended his height to six-six or -seven. Plus he was bigger framed than he looked from a distance with an impressive width of shoulders that all but filled her vision
When she swept her gaze upward, she felt as if the air had been knocked out of her. The eyes watching her with piercing intensity looked as though they’d been fashioned from molten gold, emphasized by inky lashes. His hair was blue-black, waving as it wished in sexy disarray. A quick study of the rest of his face with its smooth, bronzed skin and beautifully sculptured mouth showed there wasn’t anything about him not attractive. Even the small scar running along the right side of his jaw added to his appeal. Kat could almost hear Lora shouting from the other side of town, Seize the moment, girl. Don’t let this one get away.
Mentally Kat shook her head. He was way too beautiful for her or any average-looking woman’s peace of mind. While she had never had occasion to use the term eye-candy, this guy was confection to die for—a creamy chocolate type you could become addicted to, if you were lucky enough to get a taste in the first place. Doubtless, he dated the type of star-spangled women you saw in the glossy magazines.
She spoke in a neutral, neighborly tone, as if she wasn’t affected by his looks, “Since you don’t look like somebody selling magazine subscriptions, I’m guessing you’re new to the area, in need of directions.”
For a second her mysterious visitor looked puzzled, supporting the theory that English was not his first language. Then his eyes filled with laughter, his mouth curving into a smile that upped his appeal quotient from hot to sizzling. “No, I’m not a door-to-door salesman and Mrs. Patel, at the corner store, pointed me in this direction. I’m looking for Kathryn Monroe.” His gaze steadied on her face. “Would that be you?”
Staring into his extraordinary eyes, the woman in Kat lost her train of thought, but the ex-cop picked up the threads. “Yes, I’m Kat Monroe. And you are…?”
This time his smile was quick and apologetic. “Sorry, I should have introduced myself straight away. I’m Max…Jericho.”
He held out a large hand and Kat shook it. It was callused and felt like rock. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Jericho, I’m curious why Mrs. Patel would send you to me. This house isn’t for rent or sale. As you can see, I’m still renovating.” She indicated to the builder’s scaffolding covering the side of the house where the brickwork was undergoing repointing.
Jericho flicked his gaze to her house. “And I’m sure it’ll look splendid when finished. However, that’s not why I’m here. I need your professional help.”
She blinked. “You want to hire me?”
“Yes.” He watched her face. “I’m hoping you can start right away.”
Off balance, she quickly considered. Mr. Dawson was coming to see her the day after tomorrow. It was hard to estimate how much time it would take to track down the errant Mrs. Dawson. But she had juggled two or more cases before. “I’m sure I can find the time to help you.” She was curious. “How did you hear about me?”
Jericho hesitated. “I found you online, but somehow misplaced your office address on the way here.” He gave an elegant shrug.
He didn’t strike Kat as a man who would misplace anything.
“Fortunately, Mrs. Patel was able to help.” His eyes twinkled. “She considers you to be an asset to the neighborhood by the way.”
Listening to his rich rumbling voice that made everything he said sound fascinating, Kat did what she usually did with prospective clients, opened her para-senses to probe his chi. She found his emotional levels were deep and inconsistent, making it hard to get a fix on him. But since she didn’t get any red warning signals, she relaxed, as much as any woman could relax when faced with so much masculine beauty. If it crossed her mind to have a word with Mrs. Patel regarding privacy issues, she dismissed it. The woman had done her a service after all.
“In what area do you need my help, Mr. Jericho?” Recently she’d been involved with a couple of industrial espionage cases. However, the vast majority of her work dealt with missing persons the police had failed to find.
“I’d like you to help me locate a thief who made off with four-point-five million in uncut diamonds.”
Kat blinked slowly. “Well, that’s certainly out of the ordinary.” Not many PIs were offered sexy cases tied to millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds, let alone a sexy client to go with it, even if all she could do was look. The Josh Harper disaster had cured her of mixing business and pleasure. “I’m assuming you’re an insurance investigator, since law enforcement is not in the habit of hiring PIs.”
“No, they’re not, but I’m foreign law enforcement without jurisdiction. I come from a small European country called Baltrania. And the victim is a Baltranian diplomat.”
Kat had never heard of the place. And she had to wonder why a foreign diplomat would be carrying millions in uncut diamonds.
“The local police are looking into it,” Jericho continued. “But since there are no leads so far, I decided to add an outside investigator with local knowledge.”
His melodious voice flowed through Kat’s senses like warm honey. She was curious to know why he’d chosen her when there were three male PIs with offices in the vicinity. “If the Boston PD can’t find your felon, what makes you think I can?”
“I liked what I heard about you from my contacts in the department. The word is you handled yourself flawlessly while you were on the job, showing an exceptional talent for tracking criminals.”
Kat didn’t respond to that particular comment. “What makes you think your perp is in the Boston area?”
Something flickered in his eyes and was gone. “The man we’re after has ties to this location. We’re certain he’ll be drawn to here. To that end, I have an appointment with a realtor shortly in regards to renting a property for a long-term stakeout.”
Kat knew from her years on the force that family ties had led to the arrest of many a criminal.
“I’d like to give you a report to read and we’ll go from there.”
While he looked down and dug around in a deep coat pocket, Kat couldn’t help but dart another look at his fine mouth, wondering how it might feel moving against hers, kissing her breathless.
“Here you go.”
She whipped her attention down to the plastic-covered disk he was offering. She took it carefully, avoiding contact with his hands so as not to think about how they might feel on her skin. Now that Jericho was a client, he was strictly off-limits. And not just because of her determination never to mix business and pleasure. The PI profession had a very efficient grapevine, as you might expect. If it got around that Kat Monroe slept with clients, she would lose all credibility. And that was the main issue in her mind. Her livelihood had to be sufficient to support her and her sisters until they graduated from college and embarked on their chosen careers.
Kat read the name written on the disk’s plastic cover, “Viktor Kalsiak. That definitely sounds European, but your name doesn’t.”
“I have American heritage. My knowledge of the US is the reason I was given this assignment.” His gaze rested on her mouth for a moment before he glanced down at his watch. “I have to go meet with that realtor. So I’ll wait to hear from you.”
“I may not get back to you until tomorrow.”
“No problem—hold still!” His hand snaked out and brushed against the skin behind her left ear, sending a thrill racing up her spine.
“You had a little beetle on your hair.”
She gave a breathless laugh. “I guess it is that time of year.” Lord, I really do need to get laid.
“Before you go, I’d like to give you this.”
Her jittery gaze darted up to his and then dropped to the sealed envelope he was offering her.
“It’s a thousand dollars, as a consultation fee.”
As much as Kat’s dwindling bank account badly needed an infusion, she shook her head. “It’s too much. My normal consultation fee is two hundred dollars.” The fact that he was offering so much made her suddenly question if he was legit. For all she knew, he could be a con man using her to find a double-dealing partner.
“Please take the money,” he urged. “I can afford it.”
That increased her suspicions, but common sense told her not to look a gift horse in the mouth, she settled for, “All right, I’ll use the extra as a retainer. But if I decide for any reason not to take the case, I’ll refund your money, minus two hundred dollars.”
“Very well.” He handed her the envelope. “We’ll talk when you’re ready. My contact’s listed on the first page.” He glanced down at the dog, sitting perfectly still all this time. “Okay, Bowwow, it’s time for your run in the park.”
Kat looked down at the sleek, black dog in bemusement. It wagged its tail, its mouth opening in a doggy grin. “You named him Bowwow?” It seemed disrespectful to give such a beautiful animal a ridiculous name.
When Kat looked back at Jericho, the corners of his mouth lifted in another beguiling smile. “I did warn him people would remark on the name, but he wouldn’t listen.” With that, the pair turned and walked away.
Kat had always appreciated a quirky sense of humor. And studying Jericho’s fluid stride, she wondered what his backside looked like. “You’ll never know, Monroe.” Slipping the disk into her jacket pocket, she managed her grocery bag and briefcase as she walked to unlock her front door.
Stepping into her wood, tiled-floor foyer, she tossed her keys and purse onto the small mahogany table by her staircase, crossing to punch in her passcode, disarming the security system. She shrugged out of her navy jacket and hung it on the coat stand, leaving the disk in her pocket for later.
She carried the grocery bag into the kitchen, setting it on the counter. Her first step, as always when she came home, was to fill the kettle to make tea or coffee. Once she set the water on the stove to boil, she opened kitchen cabinets and quickly put away the groceries, her thoughts returning to the alluring Mr. Jericho.
She was still feeling slightly dazed by the encounter and curious to see what was on his disk. At the same time, she warned herself not to dwell on her reactions to him. Though maturity had moved her from the gawky group into the attractive set, men, even ordinary looking ones, didn’t exactly fall over themselves to get to her. Some were put off by her height and attitude—she had plenty of it. And, of course, she was in the law and order business, which intimidated many men. Her biggest problem was the under-the-radar existence she’d been forced to live, never being able let her guard down. More than anything, she wished there was someone she could open her heart to.
With the thought, she touched the intricately, detailed, gold pedant her mother had given her on her twelfth birthday—supposedly an old Celtic design. Kat still grieved for her beautiful mother, Davina, who was tragically taken from her two years ago in a car accident. Davina had made a living as a fine artist while she’d trained as a downhill skier for the Olympics. She was a brilliant champion who’d won five, gold medals.
Kat had never known her father who supposedly died shortly after she was born. Kat suspected she was the result of a brief affair. But it didn’t matter. Her mother had been a warm and generous woman who had cherished Kat along with her half-sisters, Brigitta and Lexine, twins, who were born when Kat was seven. The twins’ father, Malcolm, sustained a serious head injury in the same accident that killed Davina. Fortunately, Malcolm had come out of his coma and was improving daily, able to be part of his daughters’ lives again.
It was shortly after her half-sisters were born that Kat began to notice she was feeling and sensing things differently, scents and sounds suddenly seemed sharper. When she was in school or out in public, she was more aware of movement around her and she sometimes heard whispered words in her head.
Of course, she was still too young to comprehend what her new sensitivity signified. When she finally mentioned it at home, her mother sat her down to gently explain that she wasn’t an ordinary child. She’d descended from a long line of females endowed with powerful psychic skills and the ability to move at great speed.
At that time, Davina did not consider her daughter needed to be shown what was written in her great grandmother’s journal. She simply told Kat she was experiencing the inception of a gift that would strengthen at puberty.
Kat was thrilled. “So I’m kinda like a supergirl?” She visualized herself fending off bullets like Wonder Woman. She couldn’t wait to tell her school friends and see the amazement on their faces.
“I’m afraid your legacy must remain a secret.” Doubtless Davina had feared the authorities might step in and take her daughter away to be tested.
The little girl had cried. “But what’s the point in having special powers if I can’t show them off to my friends?”
Davina took hold of Kat’s hands to make her point. “Because your gift comes with responsibly, Kathryn, it must never be used for personal gain, only to help and defend others.”
As Kat grew from girl to teenager, she would have died rather than reveal the truth about her herself. Her gift had become the bane of her existence. At fifteen, she was biologically taller and more powerfully built than the rest of the girls her age, feeling little better than a bull in a china shop. She safeguarded her secret by pretending to be a fitness fanatic who spent a lot of time in the gym. At the same time, she was careful to keep her physical abilities in check when she played sports, especially in front of boys. It wasn’t until she was into her senior year of college that she could risk wearing high heels to social events. By that time, she didn’t tower over the majority of males on campus. Not that it helped much. Not once in all her years of wishing had she found a man she felt she could trust with her secret, one that wouldn’t consider her a freak. Now that her mother was gone, Kat had no one to confide in. She wished she had asked more questions when her mother was alive. Maybe huntresses weren’t supposed to fall in love. Perhaps that’s why her mother hadn’t kept a permanent man in her life.
With her mother’s death, Kat had become the family leader, helping to support her sisters. That’s why she needed to pull in some profitable contracts to offset the cost of tuition and the renovation to the house.
Kat sighed heavily. As much as she needed someone to confide in, her sisters were dealing with the usual teenage tribulations, starting college and their own burgeoning powers. She wasn’t about to burden them with her sudden fear of sleeping.
When the kettle started to whistle, she shut off her detour of self-pity and focused on the work she had to get through plus the report from Jericho. She opted to make a pot of tea.