Blurb: Austen Payne, THIRDS Squadron Specialist Agent (SSA) for Destructive Delta and TIN operative, has seen the worst the world has to offer, faced lethal killers, and helped bring down dangerous organizations. But nothing terrifies him more than falling in love. After years of undercover work, Austen is a master at defending himself and protecting his heart… until he meets Osmond Zachary.
THIRDS Defense Agent Osmond Zachary has a huge, doting family, yet something is missing in his life. After meeting grumpy, foul-mouthed, jittery cheetah Therian Austen Payne, Zach knows exactly what that something—or someone—is. Unfortunately Austen seems determined to avoid Zach at all costs.
When Zach foils an assassination attempt, he ends up in the killer’s crosshairs, and Austen is Zach’s best chance at staying alive. Zach hopes the crisis will bring them closer, but Austen has every intention of walking away as soon as the danger is over.
Happily ever after isn’t for guys like Austen, but Zach is determined to show him it can be….
“Are you Uncle Zach’s boyfriend?”
“Holy fuck!” Austen gave such a start that if he’d been in Therian form, he was positive his spots would have fallen off.
Big amber eyes stared up at him. “You said a bad word. Daddy says there’s a time and a place.”
Austen eyed the tiny bear Therian with the mop of red curls and a spatter of bright freckles across his nose and cheeks. “That so? Well, for me that’s any time and any place. Who are you, and where’s your grown-up?”
“I’m Caley,” the little boy stated, lifting his chin. “And I’m six years old.” He puffed his chest up. “I don’t need a grown-up.”
Caley. Austen ran through the Zachary family tree and cursed under his breath. Of course it would be one of Colin’s spawn. “Does your dad know you’re here?”
Judging by the way Caley worried his bottom lip with his teeth, Austen would guess the answer was most definitely no. How the hell had the kid managed to slip away from the Zachary clan? Mama Bear alone would have sniffed the kid wandering off from the next town over.
“Spill,” Austen demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.
Caley toyed with the hem of his Batman T-shirt, his gaze everywhere but on Austen. “I told Dad I was going to the cafeteria with my brothers and sisters.”
“You shouldn’t lie to your dad.” Especially when said dad was terrifying and a THIRDS Team Leader. Then again, Colin was terrifying to everyone but his family. Austen had seen the man with his children. He might be a fierce Therian agent, but with his spawn, as well as the spawn of his siblings, he was the biggest pushover Austen had ever seen. His wife, Sheena, on the other hand, now she was scary. All she had to do was arch a perfectly shaped eyebrow and everyone fell into line, including Colin. Mama Bear might be the reigning matriarch of the Zachary brood, but Sheena Zachary was her right-hand woman. Nothing got past her, and Austen begrudgingly had to admit he liked her. Anyone who could bring a Zachary man to his knees with just a look had mad skills.
The door opened, and a tall, broad-shouldered wolf Therian wearing green scrubs and surgical mask entered the room. He closed the door, and Austen caught sight of a tattoo peeking out from under a white glove. A chill went up Austen’s spine.
“What are you doing in here?” the guy asked, his voice slightly muffled by the surgical mask.
Austen stood and pulled Caley to his side. “Sorry, I caught this one sneaking in. I’ll get him out of your hair.”
The guy nodded and headed over to Zach’s bedside to check his vitals.
Austen quickly ushered Caley to the door, ignoring the boy’s protests. He opened the door and knelt in front of him, talking quietly. “I need you to run. Now.”
Caley’s eyes went wide before he took off down the hall, running as fast as his little legs allowed. Austen was grateful Caley hadn’t questioned his order, but he wasn’t surprised. The blood in the Zachary clan’s men ran true blue. They were born to serve and protect, to uphold the law, and had instincts to match. Caley was no exception. Austen pulled his own mask over his face and stood. He reached under his scrubs and unfastened his belt, then discreetly pulled it from around his waist and wrapped it around the knuckles of his right hand. He moved it behind his back as he turned. Walking into the room, he closed the door silently behind him.
“You’re free to go,” the Therian said. “I’ll take care of him.”
I bet you will.
Austen nodded toward Zach. “He’s got a nasty gash just under his collarbone I’m concerned about. Could you have a look at it for me before I go? I want to make sure it’s nothing to be worried about.”
“Sure.” The guy reached into his pocket and pulled out a syringe as he leaned over to check. Austen sprang into action, looping the belt around the Therian’s neck and jerking him away from Zach.
“Who sent you?” Austen snarled as the Therian jabbed an elbow behind him to catch him in the ribs, but Austen was too quick and dodged the blow. The guy spun, and Austen jumped onto his back, pulling the belt tight against his neck, receiving a nice wheeze in return. “Answer the fucking question!”
The guy threw a hand over his shoulder and grabbed a fistful of Austen’s scrubs before bending over and tossing Austen over his head. Austen landed on the floor at his feet, but he didn’t release the belt around the guy’s neck. Instead he gave it enough slack to make up for the distance, then twisted his body, crossing the belt and jerking it tight. The guy gasped for air before throwing himself down on Austen, delivering a punch to his side.
“You fuck,” Austen hissed. That was going to leave a nice bruise. “Who sent you after Agent Zach?”
“Fuck you,” the wolf Therian growled, slamming his head into Austen’s, leaving him stunned and seeing stars. Austen rolled onto his side, and squeezed his eyes at the pain. Motherfuck! He pushed to his feet only to get kicked in the chest. Gasping, he stumbled, his heart feeling like it was going to explode.
“Soon as I take care of you, your boyfriend’s a dead man,” the wolf Therian growled as he made a lunge for Austen.
Austen ducked out of the way. “He’s not my boyfriend, and you’re not laying one fucking finger on him.” He let the belt unroll, keeping hold of the end. Jerking his arm, he whipped the belt, buckle end snapping at the wolf Therian and landing a hit on his thigh. The guy let out a slew of curses, and Austen placed himself between the man and Zach, who was down for the count.
A low, feral growl joined the beeps in the quiet room, and Austen hissed in return. No way in hell he was letting this guy get near Zach.
“Who. Sent. You?” Austen flinched against the sting to his fingertips. The best part of being a Felid Therian was the ability to extend his claws in Human form. Not everyone could do it. It took concentration, skill, and the ability to withstand a certain amount of constant pain. His claws might not be as big or sharp as a jaguar or tiger Therian’s, but they were still pretty fucking lethal.
The guy replied with a sinister grin before launching himself at Austen. Belt in his right, claws extended on his left, Austen was determined to get some answers, and if not, he’d just have to take the guy out.