by Erzabet Bishop
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With some gifts, it’s all about the unwrapping...
Jess looks forward to a holiday season of saving puppies and working at the shelter. With her new sister-in-law taking over the Yuletide Gathering, it’s run for the hills or wind up covered in glitter. What she doesn’t anticipate is her brother lining up yet another in a long string of bodyguards. She might be a wolf who can’t shift, but that doesn’t mean she needs anyone’s protection. When things heat up during the festivities, she finds herself face to face with the one man who just might hold the key to her heart.
It was supposed to be a two-week Ops for ridding the world of hybrid wolves, not a babysitting gig for the spoiled sister of the Westmore Pack Alpha. But when Thorne sets eyes on the curvy brunette, he finds a fierce beauty with a soft interior just begging to be tamed, and he’s just the gargoyle to do it.
Thorne sat across the desk from his new employer and tried unsuccessfully to shake away the incredulous feeling gnawing at his gut. He’d come to Westmore with the understanding that this would be a two-week Ops mission to locate and destroy the violent hybrid wolves he’d been hearing about. They a role to play in his father’s death, he was certain of it, and now he could finally get the answers he was seeking and kill a few in the process. But, as he sat across from the Westmore Pack Alpha, he found himself staring at the man, completely disbelieving his ears.
“That wasn’t the job.”
“I want her protected.” Thorne met Carrick’s eyes, and Thorne struggled to hold in his frustration. This was why he’d been brought to the famed Westmore Estate? The Alpha was legendary for taking down his predecessors with nothing but brains and his own two hands…but to suggest he babysit a female? He was no one’s nanny.
“You want me to be a bodyguard? For a woman?” Thorne sputtered and erupted from the chair, stalking to the window. He kept one eye on the comings and goings outside and another on the man behind the desk. Thorne had come at night, as requested, to see the estate at its most vulnerable. What he hadn’t expected was to be insulted.
“Not just a woman. My sister. And the job is a trial period for two weeks.”
The Alpha thrummed his fingers on the desk. “We’ll talk about that if you’re still here.”
What the hell was that supposed to mean?
The door opened and another man entered, closing it behind him. Thorne eyed the man and waited to be introduced. The pinched look of the other man’s mouth and worry lines in his face indicated he cared about this woman. Interesting.
“Where is she?” the Alpha demanded.
“Probably at the shelter again. She’s not in her room and the guard at the front gate said she took off around eight this morning. Something about an adoption drive at Barks.”
“Thorne, this is Reid, my second in command.” Carrick ran his hand through his mane of dark hair and frowned. “Jesus, she knows I want her to be careful. I keep telling her to quit, but she won’t listen. After what happened with that fucking dragon…”
The other man, Reid, unconsciously rubbed at his arm.
“You were injured.” Thorne stepped away from the window and moved deeper into the room. He could sense their unease. Perhaps something more was happening here than met the eye.
Dragons? Now that was interesting.
“I was told there were hybrid wolves.”
“Originally, that was the contract. Yes.” Carrick rose from the chair, came around the desk, and leaned against it. “But we’ve come to find out that the previous alpha may still have some support out there.”
“A dragon?” Thorne raised an eyebrow. Dragon kind and Night Wing gargoyles were not on friendly terms. Territorial disputes in his homeland had made them natural enemies. But here? That would remain to be seen. Not that he would mind tangling with one.
“An old bastard of a firefighter, too. Seemed like he was setting more blazes at the end rather than putting them down.” Carrick’s lips thinned and his jaw clenched. “He endangered the life of my mate.”
Thorne considered the Alpha carefully.
“If you’ve rooted him out, then why am I here?”
“He’s not the only one,” Reid bit out. “We know there are more out there. What remains to be seen are when and where they choose to rear their ugly heads.”
“Why don’t you go to them?” It seemed a simple question, but the shuttered looks from the men in front of him stopped the suggestion before it could go any further.
“The Yule Gathering is coming and I want no complications. Likely as not, there are more of them out there and I won’t take a chance with my mate, my sister, or my pack. I spoke with your last employer and he said you were the best, most unobtrusive operative he had.”
And Thorne could find the creatures the Alpha sought. All he had to do was give the command.
Thorne wasn’t boasting. It was the truth. People paid for his work and paid him well.
“Good,” Reid snorted. “If you’re tailing Jess, you’re going to need it.”
“Is she your mate, this…Jess?”
“No.” A shade of pink crept up the sides of the other man’s face. “More like…a sister, if you want to know the truth.”
The Alpha sighed. “And she’s stubborn.”
The two men glanced at each other, a pregnant pause filling the room. Any information withheld could jeopardize Thorne meeting whatever goal they had in mind.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“Her last bodyguard didn’t make it longer than a day.” Carrick closed his eyes, a twitch of humor playing at his lips.
This ought to be good.
“May I ask why?”
“He, ugh…went up in flames.” Reid coughed, but underneath the sound Thorne was certain he heard a note of laughter.
“What did she do, torch him?”
“Not exactly.” Carrick cleared his throat and turned his face away in what Thorne was sure was an effort to compose himself.
Were they hinting he couldn’t handle a woman? It didn’t sound like she needed protection in the least.
Thorne’s lips curved up in a humorless smile. “If she’s such a force of nature, then why the protection? I thought your females were fierce.”
Reid met Carrick’s gaze and the Alpha cleared his throat until his second glanced away, his eyes finding Thorne’s.
“She can’t shift.” The Alpha sighed.
Reid crossed his arms over his chest. “Won’t shift. There’s a difference. She can but she doesn’t want to.”
“I don’t accept that.” Carrick pushed off from the desk and went to the window.
“Well, you’d better start. You and I both know that bastard damaged her. She may be strong for a female, but her wolf is broken,” Reid replied, his tone filled with frustration.
Thorne’s stomach lurched at the thought. To hear that her beast had been harmed was unacceptable. War with men he understood well, but not females. Women being abused made his skin crawl. He’d seen much in his line of work, but that was one thing he would not tolerate. It took a good bit of doing to squelch an animal. He should know.
“You’ve heard what took place here? What the previous alpha did? The atrocities and the genetic experiments?” Reid asked with a bitter twist of his lips.
“I have. The overthrow of the previous regime was unavoidable. Your prowess in battle is legendary.” He nodded to Carrick in a show of respect. He’d found the main source but some of the tendrils remained. And he fucking wanted to tear out the rest of them by the roots. That was why he came here.
Reid shook his head. “That’s not what I mean. He took them…the girls. The women. He…”
“Stop.” Carrick’s voice was strained and his stance was tense. “We don’t need to hash out any of the details.”
Jess has gotten used to her brother deciding she needs protection. But she is equally determined to live her life without fear. All that changes when she meets Thorne, her latest bodyguard. Can Jess live life on her own terms and keep her secrets? Or has fate handed her more than she ever hoped to find?
Mistletoe Kisses by Erzabet Bishop is part of the Westmore Wolves series. Although I had not read the prior stories in this series, I was able to keep up. I enjoyed Jess and Thorne. They were both strong characters who were determined to protect their secrets. They had competing agendas and then they learned they were mates. Would they follow fates plans or continue fighting they attraction? Thorne’s thirst for vengeance versus Jess’s determination to protect her secrets. I wasn’t sure how Ms. Bishop would mesh they desires. But while Jess and Thorne weren’t sure they could trust themselves much less each other, Ms. Bishop found a way that fit both their characters.
I like seeing how Jess and Thorne learned they were more than their pasts would indicate. They fought their attraction but fate would not be denied. Finding a way to accept each other wasn’t easy but Ms. Bishop their journey plausible and believable. Ms. Bishop left some dangling story lines that did nothing but whet my appetite for more. I am looking forward to seeing their happily for now become a happily ever after.
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