Lover Uncloaked (Stealth Guardians #1)
Author:Unknown

SEVEN



Aiden insisted on waiting for the cab with her. As he helped her into the taxi, his mood was gloomy.

Why did it bother him that Leila had suddenly cut their impromptu evening short? He should be relieved. But after telling her about Julia and their adventures together, he’d felt a strange sense of wanting to open up to her, when he rarely talked to anybody about his sister.

Why Leila’s mood had suddenly changed when he’d told her he was a bodyguard, which came pretty close to the truth, he had no idea. Her rejection should suit him fine, but for whatever reason he didn’t like it. Intellectually, he knew that the more distance he could keep between him and her, the better for everybody involved. They weren’t friends, and she should never make the mistake of seeing him as such. Neither should he want anything from her but her compliance, so he could protect her. End of story.

No, it’s only the beginning, his inner voice insisted while his heartbeat accelerated in agreement.

Not wanting his thoughts to go farther down that road, he watched the taxi disappear around the next corner and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed Manus’s number and started walking in the direction his car was parked.

“Yeah?” his second answered immediately. Of all people, the council had assigned Manus to him.

“I need you to check on a license plate for me. My charge was nearly run over by a car tonight.”

“No shit.”

“Could be a coincidence . . . ”

Manus snorted. “Since when do you believe in coincidences?”

Manus was right. He didn’t.

“What’s the plate number?”

Aiden recited it from memory. “I didn’t get the last number. There was some dirt on the plate, obscuring it.” He’d only had a split second to read the plates as the car had whizzed past him. But his preternatural senses had picked up what they could anyway.

“What kind of car was it?”

“Toyota, looked like a Corolla.” A very indistinct car, like millions of others.

“Give me a few hours. I’ll text you what I find.”

“Good, I’m going to Leila’s place now—”

“Ah, it’s Leila now. Interesting.”

Aiden’s hand tightened around his phone, anger surging. “Dr. Cruickshank’s apartment,” he corrected through clenched teeth.

“What’s she like?”

“Not your type,” Aiden bit out, his hackles rising once more. It would be a cold day in hell if he ever allowed Manus to guard her in his stead. She was his assignment. His responsibility.

“Ah, so it’s like that now.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You want her—Leila, is it?—for yourself,” Manus guessed.

“Bullshit! She’s my charge, that’s all. I don’t get involved with my charges.” He obeyed the rules. Even if his body wanted something different this time. Something that would not only break the Stealth Guardians’ rules but his own code of ethics.

“You’ll see the light one day, believe me.”

“Just do your job!”

Aiden disconnected the call and looked down the dark alley at the entrance of which he’d parked his black Ferrari. It was the same type of alley where only days earlier he’d lost a charge. Shaking off the unpleasant memory, he unlocked the car and slunk into the driver’s seat.

The engine howled seconds later, and the car shot into the street. Traffic was light, making it easy to slip back into his thoughts even though he didn’t want to.

He forced his thoughts away from Leila and back to his best friend. Best friend? He had no best friend anymore: Hamish was gone, by the looks of it seduced to the dark side by the demons. Was that what had happened? Had he turned bad? If that was true, then next time they met, it could be as enemies, clashing swords.

It was a gruesome prospect, one that for a moment even drowned out his thoughts about Leila. Aiden felt the blade that was lodged in the side of his right boot, a dagger forged in the Dark Days. Would he have to use this weapon against Hamish one day? He felt his heart contract painfully at the thought of it, but he knew it had to be done.

As a Stealth Guardian, Hamish knew too much. He was aware of the portals that connected all compounds with each other. Like worm holes, they allowed their kind to step into a portal at one compound and emerge, seconds later, at another, even if it was thousands of miles away. It made travel between their strongholds child’s play. But should demons ever get wind of the location of their compounds and therefore the portals, they could destroy the Stealth Guardians from within. A frightening prospect, and the reason why no charges were ever allowed inside the walls of any compound, even though it would be the safest place for them.

Aiden pulled the car to a stop opposite the small building Leila lived in. Her apartment was on the second floor and faced the street, making it easy to watch from the outside. The lights in two rooms were on, the living room and her bedroom. Earlier, before he’d gone to Inter Pharma, he’d entered her apartment, passing through the locked door as if it were air, and had scoped out her place. He’d found nothing amiss, no traces of demon activity, nothing unusual.

Her bookshelves were stuffed full with medical textbooks, her coffee table littered with medical journals, and her refrigerator bare. He knew that Inter Pharma had a canteen, and he assumed she ate there rather than cooking at home. The apartment was neat, yet it lacked the frills he’d encountered in other women’s homes.

His sensitive hearing picked up the ping of a microwave, and moments later he saw Leila limping back into the living room, plate in hand.

Aiden drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, contemplating whether to go up there and sit with her. He knew it wasn’t necessary, because from the short distance he was at, he had no trouble cloaking her with his mind. She would be invisible to any demon in the vicinity. Yet, something inexplicable made him want to draw closer.

The decision was made for him when he heard a doorbell ring in Leila’s apartment and saw her rise. His head shot to the front door of the building, but there was nobody.

He catapulted from the car and raced across the street, bolting through the door and up the stairs. He turned the corner after the first flight of stairs and looked up to the next landing, just as Leila opened the door to the young man who hovered there.

“Hey, Jonathan,” she greeted him with a tired smile, but a smile nevertheless.

Who the hell was this guy? Her boyfriend? Aiden perused him quickly: tall build, slim, short blond hair, his arms behind his back, dimples in his cheeks when he smiled. Which he did now. He positively grinned back at her.

“Hey, Leila. I heard you come home. Didn’t want to miss you.”

Aiden noticed how she leaned against the door jamb, her injured leg slightly lifted off the floor. Darn, this guy shouldn’t keep her. Didn’t he see that she was tired and needed to rest?

“I was just about to turn in . . . ” Good, it seemed she wasn’t in the mood to talk to this interloper.

He brought his hands to his front, and Aiden instantly went on alert, in case he was about to touch her. Yet, his hands held a square box about ten inches long on each side, wrapped in colored paper, a ribbon and a bow around it.

“Just wanted to be the first one to give you a birthday present.”

“Ohh,” she cooed. “You shouldn’t have.” Yet she took the box from his hands.

Now get lost, Aiden wanted to growl.

Jonathan raised his finger. “But you’re not allowed to open it until tomorrow. It’s not your birthday yet.”

She smiled back. “Promise.” Then she paused. “I’d invite you in, but . . . ”

No!

Aiden took a few steps up toward them to interfere if necessary.

“No, no, don’t worry, I can see you’re tired. We’ll hang out some other time.” Then he bent toward her and kissed her on the cheek. “Happy Birthday!”

Piss off!

“Good night, Jonathan, and thanks again.”

She turned and disappeared back in her apartment. Aiden watched as Jonathan waited until the door closed behind her, then walked up a flight of stairs. So that jerk lived in the same apartment building. This wasn’t good. It meant he had to stay with Leila day and night, there was no way around it. He couldn’t allow this guy to slip past him.

He put Jonathan on his mental list of people to check out. For all he knew the guy could work for the demons. He was clearly human, but that didn’t mean a thing. The demons had plenty of humans on their payroll—humans who didn’t even know who they were working for.

The asshole had kissed her, only on the cheek, but nevertheless it was a kiss. Leila hadn’t seemed surprised by it either, as if he’d done it before. Had he?

Aiden looked down at his hands that had balled into fists, as if wanting to hit someone, preferably Jonathan. What the fuck was making him so aggressive?

He knew he couldn’t jeopardize this assignment and draw attention to himself, so he forced himself to relax and unclench his fists. If the council got wind of his erratic behavior, they’d take him to task. Not even his status as the son of the current Primus would help him then. Not that it had ever helped him before: now that he thought of it, he’d never received any preferential treatment because of it. On the contrary, sometimes he felt that he was being treated harsher just because he was Primus’s son. Well, he didn’t care. Whatever they threw at him, he could handle it.

Without another thought, he entered her apartment. Whatever was driving him, he didn’t care to analyze.





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