Lover Uncloaked (Stealth Guardians #1)
Author:Unknown

FIVE



In his cloaked state, Aiden paced outside of Inter Pharma’s facility. After leaving the council chambers, he’d looked at the manila folder containing the details of his assignment and read it cover to cover. He’d formed his opinion on this case by the time he reached the last page, secretly questioning the council’s decision. Given the details laid out in the report, he would have decided on eliminating the human in question. It would be the safest and only reliable way of ensuring that the demons wouldn’t gain access to this dangerous drug.

However, when he’d pulled out Dr. Cruickshank’s picture, which had been tucked into an envelope and placed in the back of the file, his gut had instantly made a curious flip. He’d expected her to be different . . . older . . . and not so . . . beautiful. But it wasn’t only her beauty that created such a physical reaction in him. It was the determined look in her eyes that the camera had captured. What he read in them attracted him most of all: strength. A human woman who was strong and determined, not weak and impressionable, not easily seduced. Would she be strong enough to resist the demons once they found her?

He turned, annoyed at himself for letting a picture sway him in his conviction. What she looked like didn’t matter. It would not influence at all how he treated her: with utter professionalism. Just as he treated all the others. And should it become necessary to kill her, he wouldn’t hesitate.

Aiden’s gaze drifted down the street. The area was a mix of residential and commercial buildings. The shops had long closed, but a couple of the restaurants farther down the street were still open. Some of the windows in the nearby office buildings were illuminated, and in the apartment buildings he saw people go about their lives, cooking dinner, watching TV. He always felt like a thief when he watched others like this. Yet it had become second nature. All Stealth Guardians did it.

Curiosity had always been one of his traits. Even early in his training, he’d liked to watch humans, observe how they lived. In many ways it was so different from his own life of duty and service. Inside those apartments he gazed up at, people loved and lived. They raised children, had careers, shared laughter and tears. And one day, they died. A strange yearning came over him each time he thought of their lives.

While his life at the compound afforded him the same comforts humans lived with, life was very different there. For starters, he spent very little time at the compound, and it was rare that all inhabitants were there at the same time. One or the other was always on assignment. Birthdays weren’t celebrated, neither was Christmas, Easter, or any other holiday. Every day was the same. There was no weekend where people relaxed and unwound. Demons didn’t rest on Saturday or Sunday, and neither did Stealth Guardians. Danger was always awake. It never slept.

Aiden tore his gaze from the apartment building and continued surveying the area. Few cars passed. A bus stopped on the next block, dropping off a woman with a small child. In the distance, a door closed and another opened. Normal sounds of a neighborhood.

But his senses were only partially engaged, his thoughts going back to his new charge, Leila. He would follow her home tonight and assess where she was most vulnerable to an attack by the demons. Not that he believed that they would mount an outright attack: they wanted what she had, the drug. They were more likely to find something in her life to make a bargain with.

The sound of distant footsteps and voices, carried to him by his preternatural senses, made him turn his head back to the building Inter Pharma occupied. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows that encased the lobby, he saw Leila crossing to the door, exchanging a few kind words with the night watchman. The photo he’d been given didn’t do her justice. In reality she looked even more enchanting than on the black and white picture. His stomach tensed at the sight, giving him a visceral reaction he was unaccustomed to when dealing with a charge. She was so unlike anybody else he’d ever had to protect.

Aiden attributed his reaction to the fact that this woman was extremely dangerous: if the demons were to ever seduce her over to their side, they would have a brilliant scientist working for them. He’d gathered that much from the dossier on her. Who knew what other little serums she could invent, maybe one that rendered Stealth Guardians powerless? Yes, he reasoned with himself, what he felt in his gut now had everything to do with the knowledge that a brilliant mind like hers was trapped in a human body that would eventually succumb to the demons, because despite the strength he’d seen in her eyes, she would never be strong enough to resist them.

And his reaction to her had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he found her more intoxicating than any woman he’d ever met.

Leila smiled at the security guard before exiting into the crisp night air. It was September, but the day had been overcast, and it was colder than normal for the season. She turned left and walked down the block.

Aiden followed her, remaining in his cloaked state, and mindful that even though his body was invisible, he could still be heard. His breathing, his footsteps, none of it could be disguised by his cloak. It was one of the reasons, he and all his fellow Stealth Guardians wore specially designed soft-soled shoes when on assignment. They absorbed nearly all of the sound of his footsteps on the pavement. In addition, he’d learned to tread lightly like a cat, or like a thief. If he stayed far enough back, his charge would never notice him.

Yet, he broke protocol and approached, walking a mere step behind her, close enough to touch her should he desire to. A faint smell of roses surrounded her. It was so exquisite that for an instant it made him forget what he was there to do.

She wore a short jacket over her blouse. Her delectable behind, encased in those tailored slacks, swished from side to side in a tantalizing rhythm that could make any man turn soft in the head and hard in other places. Her hair was kept in a tight ponytail, and he wondered what it would feel like to release it from its confines and bury his face in it. Soaking in her scent, feeling the silken softness of her tresses, all while she writhed underneath him in obvious ecstasy.

He exhaled sharply at the unexpected thought.

An instant later, Leila spun on her heels. She would have crashed into him were it not for the preternatural speed his species was graced with. He rocked to a halt and held his breath.

Her eyes peered into the darkness, tension lines forming on her forehead, her lips slightly parted. He noticed the pulse in her neck twitch. Her hand reached into her shoulder bag, clearly gripping something tightly in her fist. A knife? A gun? But she didn’t pull it out, her eyes and her face relaxing slowly as she scanned the area. Her shoulders dropped, and she turned back, continuing in the same direction as before.

Aiden started breathing again. It was best not to concentrate on Leila’s enticing body, or incidences like these would keep happening. And next time, she might bounce into him and realize something was amiss. He couldn’t risk that, even though he wouldn’t mind knowing what her body felt like pressed against his, to feel her curves yield to his hard muscles.

Shit, why was he focusing on that rather than on the fact that she represented a danger to humanity? He wasn’t so starved for sex to forget that getting involved with a charge would only give rise to lots of problems. He had more control than that!

His eyes fell back on those curves she so innocently flaunted right in front of him without even knowing what she was doing. Would she rein in those swinging hips if she knew the effect those movements had on him? Or would she continue taunting him with her sinful body? Because taunting she was.

A flash of light suddenly made him jerk his head away from her backside. With horror, he witnessed a car barreling toward her at the intersection she’d just reached. About to step into the crosswalk that showed a ‘go’ signal for her, Leila jolted backwards but her heel caught in a storm drain.

Aiden lunged forward, grabbed hold of her and yanked her out of the path of the out-of-control vehicle. Losing his balance, he tumbled onto the sidewalk, rolling into the doorway of a shop with Leila in his arms. His heart hammered in his chest, and his instinct kicked in, uncloaking him in a split second. Her surprised cry was muffled against his coat.

“Are you okay?” he managed to say as he caught his breath and tried to sit up without releasing her.

This incident clearly counted as an emergency, and revealing himself to her was therefore necessary. It didn’t mean she had to know who he was. She would never need to find out that he wasn’t human, and that he possessed powers that would scare the living daylights out of her. It was best for her not to know, because he didn’t know how she would react.

Leila seemed dazed and made no attempt to free herself from his embrace. Her body so close to his felt intoxicating. She smelled like a ripe fruit ready to harvest, her curves exhibiting the perfect combination of yielding softness and firmness that stood its ground. He savored the moment, knowing that once she’d recovered, she would push him away. After all, he was a stranger, it was dark, and there were few other people around. Instinct would tell her to be cautious, despite the fact that he’d saved her from being run over by a car.

Aiden glanced toward the intersection, but the car hadn’t even stopped. A drunk driver, most likely. Nevertheless, he couldn’t shake off the thought that this was no coincidence. He’d long stopped believing in things happening at random.

“I’m fine,” she mumbled, her hand pushing against him to steady herself.

As she managed to sit up and lift her head, she looked at him, assessing him as if to figure out if he could be trusted.

“Thank you. I didn’t see … the car ran a red light.”

He nodded. “I’m glad I was there.”

“I didn’t see you,” she said, her voice a hotbed of caution as she eased farther away from him now. “There was nobody behind me. I would have heard you.”

Perceptive human. “I was just crossing from over there. The car’s headlights probably blinded you, so you didn’t see me.”

He rose slowly and reached a hand out to her.

Leila gave him a doubtful look. “Thank you.” She made a motion to get up, declining his hand, but the moment her right leg touched the ground, her knee buckled and she cried out in pain.

Aiden didn’t hesitate and supported her by putting an arm around her waist, making her lean against him. Heat from her body seeped into his, igniting his cells instantly.

“Brace yourself on my shoulders,” he instructed as he crouched down. Her elegant hands dug into his shoulders.

He reached for her foot. “I’m going to check if it’s broken, okay?”

“Okay,” she whispered.

Slowly, he stroked his hands over her ankle and tested her range of motion. She winced immediately.

“Ouch!”

“I’m sorry. It’ll be just a second,” he assured her as he allowed his supernatural senses to penetrate her skin and reach to the bone. It was intact. There was no break, merely a sprain. Relieved, he exhaled. “It’s not broken.”

“How do you know? Are you a doctor?” With curiosity in her eyes, Leila looked down at him.

Aiden released her foot and rose, making sure he kept supporting her weight. “No, I’m not a doctor. But your ankle is just sprained. You’re very lucky.”

“Thank you again.”

“You should put some ice on it right away.”

“I’ll do that when I get home.”

“No, I mean right now. Even a half hour delay can make it worse.” He pointed toward the end of the block where the lights of an Irish Pub flickered invitingly. “They should have some ice down there.”

What the hell was he doing? He shouldn’t engage any more with her than he already had. If he were smart, he’d leave her now. But apparently tonight his mind was occupied with other things, lust being one of them, the inexplicable need to get to know her being another.

“That won’t be necessary. I’ll just get a cab to take me home.”

He glanced up and down the street. “You won’t find a cab around here this time of night. We can call one from the pub—after you’ve put some ice on your ankle.”

And thanked your rescuer.

He could vividly imagine what kind of thanks he’d prefer: a kiss from those pert lips. The thought jolted him. He’d never before hoped for any kind of thanks from his charges, no matter how many times he’d saved their lives. It was what he did, what he was called to do. No payment of any kind was ever expected.

“Okay, I think I can walk that far,” Leila finally conceded.

“Walk?” He shook his head. Not as long as he was here to lend a hand. “I don’t think you should walk.”

Ignoring her protest, he lifted her into this arms and strode toward the pub.

“But …”

When he looked into her ocean blue eyes, her eyelids suddenly fluttered, and she lowered them quickly. Color flushed her cheeks.

With every step, her body rubbed against his, and despite the clothing that separated them, he felt a rush of excitement course through him. The contact was intense and real, the payoff torturing, as the bulge in his jeans could attest.

He noticed how she studied his neck and the muscles that flexed underneath his tight tee. It seemed she didn’t want to lift her eyes to peruse his face so openly. Not that he would mind being studied by her. Hell, there wasn’t anything he could think of right now that he would mind her doing.

With his foot, Aiden pushed the door to the pub open and was glad to see that it was half empty. Ignoring the inquisitive stares of the few patrons, he lowered Leila to a bench next to the window and lifted her leg onto it.

“Stay here, I’ll get some ice,” he instructed and went to the bar.

The bartender looked first at Aiden, then past him. “Something wrong?”

“My friend twisted her ankle. Could you spare some crushed ice and a clean dish towel?” he asked and put a twenty on the counter. “And two Jamesons, neat.”

“Yep, women and their heels,” he responded and took a towel from behind him, filling it with ice.

“Her heels weren’t to blame. A car ran a red light and nearly killed her.” He shuddered as the words left his lips.

“Fuckin’ drunk drivers,” the bartender hissed. “Tell ya one thing, when I see one of my regulars having too much, I confiscate their car keys. Don’t care how much they curse me for it.” He handed him the towel. “Here. I’ll bring the Jamesons to your table.”

“Thanks.”

Aiden took the ice-filled towel and walked back to his charge who was sitting up straight, leaning against the wood-paneled wall, her leg stretched out over the bench. He sat down at her feet.

“This should make you feel much better soon.”

He rolled the towel into a long tube and snaked it around her ankle, tying it at the ends so it held in place. When he looked up, he collided with her gaze.

“You’ve done this before,” she approved.

He winked at her. “I used to get into a lot of scraps when I was younger.”

Stealth Guardian children didn’t heal automatically like adult Stealth Guardians did. They needed to be tended in the same way human children did. They were, however, immune to human diseases such as measles and mumps, but broken bones, cuts and bruises would leave their mark the same way they did on mortal children.

“Here are your two Jamesons, neat,” the bartender announced and set two glasses with amber liquid on the small table next to them. “Cheers.”

Aiden nodded to him then looked back at Leila, motioning toward the whiskey. “To wash away the shock.”