Logan Bradley has no idea why he’s been chosen for this assignment. If someone in the Miami office is a traitor, Universe should have sent an experienced psychic sensitive. Not Logan, a gravity-bending orphan from the streets.
Meeting the sexy-as-hell head of the office, Valentina Tower, is a punch to his gut, but he tells his hormones to stand down. If someone in Miami has gone rogue, it’s his job to take action. No matter who’s guilty.
Valentina is no fool. In sending Logan, Headquarters must suspect someone on her team has been turned by Night Stars or worse, Whisper. Despite an instant spark between them that has nothing to do with her electricity talent, she’s not putting her team—or her heart—in the hands of a man who can use gravity as a weapon.
Almost from the moment they meet, a chaotic talent strikes again and again, probing for weaknesses in their defenses—and their psyches. Forced to draw close and guard each other’s backs, passion pulls them under, making them perfect targets for a danger that’s closer than either of them ever guessed.
Antonio rapped on her door and Valentina indicated he could enter with a bob of her head. He stood in the doorway and studied the scene. “Buenos dias, Valentina. Bradley.” His tone was so cold that icicles would have dripped off it in colder climes. Not that Logan gave a shit what the man thought. He wouldn’t like Antonio if they were fellow agents in Richmond. They were never going to be beer drinking buddies like he hoped for with Ian and Zared. Not this slick operator. He was too slippery, too sure of himself and too quick to push the limits to get to his desired goal.
“Morning.” Logan’s return was sour, evading Antonio’s gaze.
“Buenos dias, Antonio. There are pastelitos on the file cabinet,” she said, tapping that pen of hers again. Valentina’s reply was cool, betraying none of the heated emotion they had just shared. He admired her aplomb. Logan was not sure he could be so steady.
Antonio’s attention went from Logan to Valentina. The flare of his nostrils and tensing of his fists was unmistakable. He did not like Logan. Good. Logan would hate to nurse this grudge all by himself.
“Hope you weren’t going for the guava, because I ate that one,” Logan said with a smug tone. “Early bird and all that. It was delicious too. You missed out.”
Antonio’s lips flattened and he angled toward Logan so fiercely Logan summoned his talent for the fight he was sure was coming. The man changed from a snake charmer to a predator in one swift motion. Then he smoothed out his face, giving Valentina an appraising glance before his gaze went to the treats.
“Dios, you are a goddess,” he exclaimed in a tone that belied the fury making his voice brittle. “What did you get?”
“What I got and what is left are two different things.”
He opened the bag. “Any cream cheese ones?”
Valentina frowned. “Yes, but only because I picked up an assortment. I usually don’t buy them since they are not favorites. When did you start liking those?”
His shrug was almost Gallic. “I am branching out. Ah well. I am sure there are plenty to choose from. Next time I will have to make sure to beat you in to get the best selection, si? Valentina, I wish to talk to you. Alone.”
Before Logan could protest, she shook her head. “Logan is here as an official emissary from not just Richmond but Washington as well. There is nothing that I can hear that he can’t. I prefer if he remains. That way there can be no misunderstanding about what is being said. Comprende?”
Antonio’s face sharpened into harsh grooves. Menace radiated off him from his clenched fists to his aggressive fighting stance. Then he subsided, his mouth tilting up in a smile.
“Whatever you say, jefa.”
Rescuing compromised Universe agents is nothing new for Zared Hersh. A fast car, a little rain-and-fog manipulation to cover his tracks, and his job is done. But when Hannah Nickels dives into his front seat, something about her aquamarine eyes strikes him like lightning.
Thank God she’s not psychic, or she’d be reading his hormones like a book.
Hannah’s been groomed to join Universe practically from the moment her time-freezing talent emerged. But recently, her power’s been glitchy. She knows she’s in trouble, and the last thing she needs is her instant attraction to Zared’s solid body and dark good looks.
When their escape is almost derailed by someone with a strange new light-manipulating gift, only Hannah’s chrono talent gets them safely back to Universe HQ. In the relative safety of Richmond, their relationship grows. But Hannah has a second, more dangerous power that few know about. And as her control slips, someone with a hidden agenda sets her up to fall—straight into Whisper’s trap.
She didn’t move her hand. He stroked her knuckles, aware of her skin and the rough patches that contained evidence of long-ago scars. He wondered what those scars were from, what missions had caused her to fight with her hands. She was no wilting flower like some of the operatives, like Maya had been when she first joined Universe. This woman was strong and capable. He was too big for her to kick his ass but he had no doubt she would give him a run for his money. The notion of wrestling naked with her made his jeans tight.
He cleared his throat to say something along the lines of “now that we’ve got that established how about we get out of here and go have sex” when their food came, stilling the words in his brain. There would be time after they ate—screw the mission, screw it all for tonight, all he longed to do was bury himself inside Hannah until neither one of them could walk. She slipped her hand out from under his and ordered a second beer. Then Hannah picked up her burger and saluted him, a grin sliding across her face. He returned the gesture, his hand flopping in an absent gesture. Need was washing through him like fire, jumbling his brain.
The burgers were big and juicy, the fries and wings hot. The welcome aroma of food wafted into his nose, driving out the rest of his musings. He would feast on something else succulent soon. But first, they needed to eat. One of the rules of being an operative was you ate when you could, you slept when you could, and you never missed an opportunity to do either as you might not have them again for a long time.
She made moaning noises, bringing his sex drive surging back to life. He could barely think for the desire flooding him, making his cock swell. Even as he tasted the delicious medium rare burger and the crispy fries and washed it down with the Guinness his blood pounded in his ears at the need to have Hannah, to take her, to be inside her.
They ate in silence until there was nothing left but a few bits of fries and some sesame seeds from the buns. The second glass of beer was also half drunk and as big as he was had no effect on him. He couldn’t pick up any signs of inebriation on Hannah either. It was possible her talent sped up her metabolism so she burned off alcohol quicker than the average person.
“Zared,” she said, sliding her hand over his. His body tightened again at the touch of her skin. Their motel room wasn’t far away by car and they could be there in a matter of minutes. Did he have condoms? They might have to stop at the store and get some. Maybe some lube too.
“Zared,” she said again and shook his head and cleared his throat.
“Yeah,” he said, and the word came out raspy and gruff like he’d had a cold for several days. He was slicker than this and cursed under his breath.
“Have you examined this restaurant yet?” She asked it in such a mild tone that he blinked. He’d expected a return to their discussion of getting naked.
“I don’t give a damn about the décor,” he said with a growl. Longing was pulsing inside him, hotter and wilder than anything he’d ever had happen in the past. If he didn’t have her soon he was going to go meshuga. It had been a long time, or maybe never, since he’d had such a profound, incessant need for a woman.
“I’m not talking about their selection of vodka,” she said, her voice sharpening.
It was a statement and not a question. Zared’s desire flickered as he caught the edge to her words. First rule of any operation was to always be aware of your surroundings. But she was so luscious that he’d forgotten that basic imperative. Now he did as she suggested and cast his gaze around the place.
On the surface nothing was off. It was a local bar just as it had been when they arrived. All indications were that they were getting ready to close up after these last stragglers were gone. No doubt the bartender and waiter were waiting for them to leave so they could get home to whatever it was they did after their late shift on a weeknight.
The bartender was at one end of the bar polishing glasses. The waiter was nowhere to be found. The remaining patrons had left, all but them and the two who had also been pelted by the quick storm, the men who had come in after them. Two who kept glancing at them in the mirror.
Since the day Jiana Falco was forced to join the paranormal agency Night Stars, she’s been planning her escape. She uses her bodyguard’s split-second of distraction to vanish into the shadows, and burns the last bridge by saving Quillan Hardis.
But now, locked in Quillan’s muscular arms, pinned by his calculating amber gaze, his invisibility talent shielding them both, she’s in even deeper trouble. If that’s possible.
Quillan didn’t get to Universe Corps’ highest echelons by being a fool. The rare shadow manipulator in his grip is too easy a prize to be anything but a setup. A pretty lure he should send back to Night Stars. Instead, he holds on—and in changing her fate, he seals his own.
Under a secret order to unlock her untapped power—by any means necessary—Quillan takes Jiana on the run with only a precog’s vague direction, and a spark of desire that blooms into something warm and genuine. But her fear of being clawed back into Night Stars’ control could drive Jiana so deep into the shadows nothing will get her out. Not even the light of Quillan’s love.
But her fear of Night Stars could drives Jiana so deep into the shadows nothing can lead her out. Not even the light of Quillan’s love.
Quillan's shadow moved, but the man didn’t.
Jiana’s gaze followed the movement from her seat in the café across from Quillan’s office. Judging by the way his shadow bobbed before merging back into ordinary stillness, something was coming. Quillan, however, was unaware of that fact. If he had possessed shadow abilities as she did he would see the wrongness, but he didn’t have such tools.
The Federal Reserve Bank loomed over the Universe offices, casting its own ominous gloom. At this hour the sun was beginning to set. The buildings made triangular and rectangular squares in jagged patterns on the street, creating the sorts of shadows she could use. Soon it would be dark.
Darkness did not bring safety. Noon was best, when the sun was overhead and shadows more difficult. Even then there was always danger from the darkness. It went unnoticed by most people, but not to a shadow manipulator.
Quillan was looking toward the Sun Trust Tower, one of the highest buildings in the Richmond skyline. His shadow wrapped around him and then expanded toward the dense pack of cars on the road between them.
Jiana and her unwelcome companion were in the Soho Café Market, located in the east tower of the BB&T. She picked at the chicken and fruit on her tray, shooting glances out the window at the head of Universe. She watched an interesting shadow by the top of the buffet area. It was big enough to use to get out the door in a hurry if necessary.
She glanced at the man next to her and then back at Quillan, still waiting by the light. Tanner, the Night Stars agent was also eyeing the tall, bearded man. He did not seem to see the danger surrounding Quillan, but she doubted he cared about that. The man her uncle had assigned as her “partner” had no interest in anything except keeping an eye on Jiana.
A flow of movement around Quillan caught her attention, and she turned back to the scene. Shadows gathered and danced around him, their forms shifting ever closer. One shadow broke off, looming higher than the others, towering over the man. By her estimation Quillan was 6’2” or more, so that was no mean feat. It was joined by another, and then another. They advanced on Quillan, covering him in darkness.
She straightened in her seat. The shadows didn’t lie. The head Night Stars opposition group was in danger. If Tanner detected her preoccupation, he didn’t comment on it. As long as she wasn’t moving then she supposed he figured he had nothing to worry about. His talent of enhanced strength was a weak one, but it made him stronger than her in a one-on-one matchup. At least that was what her uncle believed, and had passed along to the other agent.
He was about to learn differently.
Jiana watched a moment longer to make sure that she wasn’t mistaken. Spots danced in her vision and halos surrounded the vehicles. Her head throbbed like she had a headband on too tight. Then both feelings were gone and her sight sharpened. There was no error. The shadows grew thick around Quillan, flowing through the parked cars and onto the street. They almost seemed to have teeth and claws, with the sort of malevolence she did not often associate with shadows. They were used for good or ill, but they were tools rather than entities. These had a life of their own, and their malice made her shiver.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Her careful plan fading with every step the man took, Jiana sighed. She had steered Tanner here so skillfully and all for naught. Now she had to leap into action, but for different reasons than she had intended. She could see the shadows rushing toward Quillan to send him into oncoming traffic. She could not see her uncle or her cousin, the other shadow talents in Richmond, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. This didn’t feel like her uncle, though, this was . . . different.
The shadows surged in front of a car going just enough over the speed limit to be a menace, guiding it straight toward Quillan. As before, the man was unaware of the fact. Once he was alerted to the danger he wouldn’t be quick enough to get out of the way. Without shadow talent he would have no way of knowing he was in peril.
But she knew.
Before Tanner could move, Jiana was up and out of her seat, grabbing for the nearest shadows to disappear into to confuse the Night Stars agent. Shouting started behind her as she sprinted out of the café, disappearing into the shadow of the building’s rooftop before emerging by the street and heading at full speed toward the Universe leader. It was foolhardy to give away her plan but if Quillan was going to survive the next few minutes, she had no choice. Without Quillan, she had no escape route. If she stood by and watched the head of the Richmond Universe group get killed there would be no sanctuary for Jiana Falco.
She slipped from one shadow into another created by a parked truck and then she was on the same side of the street as Quillan. The time between her spotting the unnatural shadows and what was about to occur had telescoped. Now she had mere seconds before what the other shadow talent was attempting would occur. Jiana cried out and Quillan noticed her for the first time. She had a split second of admiring his tall, broad frame and even features covered by the close beard before she shouted his name and barreled into him.
Quillan let out a surprised “oof” as her momentum carried them both crashing onto the sidewalk. The cars screeched to a halt as the one out of control vehicle now careened around the corner . . . right past the spot that Quillan was about to step into.
Quillan turned his head and followed the car’s movements. She could feel his muscles under his suit jacket and trousers and had a momentary flash of awareness. The shadows now retreated. Jiana watched them flow back to the buildings and cars they came from, restored to their original forms.
Tanner was still on the other side of the road, pointing toward her with one of his beefy fingers. His posture radiated menace and while he was too far away for his epithets to carry she had no doubt he was cursing. She could even imagine the obscenities. He loved to swear at her in Italian, a language both of them spoke. Va in mona, or go fuck yourself, was his favorite. Zoccola, or bitch, was his other one. From the hard consonants, it sounded like the latter. If his oaths were uninspired, well, that was Tanner.
In the space of a heartbeat, Quillan vanished. Jiana blinked, trying to orient her senses again to determine where he had gone. His shadow winked out, having nothing to cast.
Maya Wingfield was raised to trust no one—least of all the dueling U.S. and Russian paranormal agencies, Universe and Night Stars, who’d love to harness her mind-reading gift.
She thought Richmond a safe place to escape their influence and hide from a rising psychic malevolence that drove her out of San Diego. But when she gets yet another call to retrieve her drunken roommate, her mind shows her an amber-eyed Universe operative with an impenetrable net around his deepest secret—and a voice that sends shock waves of awareness down her nerve endings.
Maya’s curves and aquamarine eyes aren’t the only things that jolt Ian Sanderson’s mental shields, bringing sexual tension thrumming back to life. It’s a power his Universe-trained mind knows he shouldn’t trust. And a vulnerability that makes his telekinetic power burn in his palms to protect her.
But to Universe, she is just one of too many unanswered questions. A target for Whisper, a shadowy new group of paranormals with powers beyond anything Universe has ever seen. Once before, Ian failed to protect a sensitive from a brain-scrambling attack. He will not fail again . . . even if it means using his talent—or his body—to stop a bullet.
Maya felt a gathering of minds, but one in particular pulsed across her mental landscape. She’d felt that mind before in the chaos of San Diego. Then, as now, it had a seductive quality, coupled with raw energy. Its power was every bit as strong now as it was then. She wanted to turn and run, but her roommate was weaving on unsteady feet to the back of the warehouse where three men were standing in a loose semi-circle. Their minds had an expectant air.
Maya focused on the men. The aura of the man in the middle glowed with a white-hot light that screamed of danger. It was the same mind signature from San Diego. The duo faded into the background compared to this man. She wanted to turn and run but found herself moving toward the men in Bobbie’s wake.
“I brought her,” Bobbie said, half slurring and stumbling forward.
Maya blinked as calm settled over her, stilling her movements and bringing her to a stop.
“You did well,” the startlingly handsome man in the middle said.
Maya picked up the name in her mind. Oriel.
It was all going to be okay. There was nothing to worry about. She could trust this man.
The soothing murmur flowed over Maya, and she relaxed into it, taking one more step forward. Bobbie lurched to a halt in front of Oriel and turned her gaze toward the man to his right, who clamped a hand on her arm and drew her back.
“Come closer, mishka. There is nothing to fear.”
Of course there wasn’t. Maya raised her arms and turned her hands, palms toward the ceiling. She wanted to touch him. The man nodded in response, acknowledging her reaction as his due.
Of course it was. He was Oriel, after all. Even though she didn’t know him, she did know him. He was nobody to fear.
“Randy, please take Bobbie over there. We should not be disturbed.”
One of the men, a balding man of average height, showed Bobbie to the back of the warehouse. The third man stayed where he was, arms folded. Security or hired muscle, more than likely. Maya tried to read his mind and got images of guns and snarling dogs, of plunging through underbrush and gun battles. He was military of some sort. It didn’t matter. She focused on Oriel again. He was what counted. She couldn’t read his mind. He was like a piece of plastic. Every effort she made just slid off. All she got was that he was trustworthy.
A distant part of her knew this wasn’t normal, but as soon as the thought flowed into her head it was gone again.
His presence was as radiant as the sun. She wanted to bask in his glowing bright, royal-blue aura. She almost wanted to shield her eyes against him but instead moved toward him, her strides quickening as she got closer.
The door banged open behind her, echoing loud in the cavernous room.
“She’s on the move. Hurry, Brit.”
Ian raced toward the door and yanked it open without touching it. His hands glowed in the centers, his talent surging to the forefront. Ian focused, keeping his telekinetic power at the ready.
Ian had only seen the dangerous Russian operative Oriel in surveillance video until now. Oriel was at the back of the warehouse, facing the door. Maya was about five feet from him, an expression of adoration on her face. It matched Bobbie’s face as well as the Night Stars operative Ian knew as Randy.
Damn it. They’d been warned that Oriel was a new breed of talent called a dazzler, but he hadn’t yet made any moves on their people in Richmond. Now Ian realized that was because he was waiting for the right time.
This, apparently, was that time. The right time and the right woman. Maya was moving toward Oriel, her steps plodding.
“Maya, stop,” he said, his voice a combination of fear and anger. To his relief, the sensitive paused.
Maya tensed, her body wound tight on invisible strings. Bloody hell, he wished he were a sensitive at that moment. He needed to know what she was thinking and if he should get her out or take her down. He should have dealt with this back at the motel. Bollocks.
“I must go to him,” she said. Her tone suggested the words made sense.
“No, you do not,” he cried. The expression Maya turned on him was devoid of emotion. Then he saw a flicker, and her mouth twitched. Her face twisted with some internal struggle. Good. Perhaps she had the strength to fight the effects of Oriel’s dazzling.
Bobbie was off to one side, with Randy behind her, holding her shoulder. Ian raised his voice and aimed it at Randy. “Still being Oriel’s dogsbody, are you?”
Oriel’s chuckle rolled through the warehouse, the sound echoing off the aluminum walls and ceiling. There was something hypnotic in the laugh, and he felt an urge to let go of his concern and join the man.
Oriel pierced Ian with his amber eyes and waggled a finger at him. The urge to move forward surged through Ian.
“Zared, I could use a little help,” he said into his watch.
All at once there was a clap of thunder, a streak of lightning, and loud thumps on the metal roof. Hail. It was one of Zared’s specialties. Zared had remained outside, where Oriel’s dazzling couldn’t reach him. Ian wasn’t sure how long he could hold out. It had been a mistake to do this without more backup. He assessed the large room in a quick sweep and smiled. This place, which appeared to be an empty storage facility, had weapons. Focusing on a hammer, Ian shifted it slightly.
Maya’s eyes went to Bobbie, and a crease formed across the ridge of her brow bone. She shook her head, Oriel’s dazzle apparently fading when the hail struck the roof.
About the author:
Claire can’t remember a time when writing wasn’t part of her life. Growing up, she used to write stories with her friends. As a teenager she started out reading fantasy and science fiction, but her diet quickly changed to romance and happily-ever-after’s. A native of Massachusetts and cold weather, she left all that behind to move to the sun and fun of California, but has always lived no more than twenty miles from the ocean.
In college she studied acting with a minor in creative writing. In hindsight she should have flipped course studies. Before she was published, she sold books on eBay and discovered some of her favorite authors by sampling the goods, which was the perfect solution. Claire has many book-irons in the fire, most notably her urban fantasy series, The Elementals’ Challenge series, but writes contemporary and shifter romances as well as.
While she’s not a movie mogul or actor, she does work in the film industry with her office firmly situated in the 90210 district of Hollywood. Prone to break out into song, she is quick on feet and just as quick with snappy dialogue. In addition to writing she does animal rescue, reads, and goes to movies. She loves to hear from fans, so feel free to drop her a line.
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