11:47 AM ... 11:49 AM ... 11:50 AM.
Claire Hallowell glared at the clock, having half a mind to take her heels off and throw them at the offending timekeeper.
Was the Chief ever going to show up?
She slammed the file drawer closed and stalked back to her desk. She had worked so hard to make sure his welcome back would go smoothly. At seven sharp, she had arrived and made a fresh pot of coffee. All the papers and files he needed to review were neatly stacked in order of priority and waiting on her desk.
After a weeklong vacation, she had expected him to arrive early, anxious to catch up on work. As the minutes had expanded to hours, her annoyance had grown to exasperation. Exasperation had bloomed into amazement. Now, she was outright mad.
The police chief was supposed to set the example all his officers would follow. No wonder his crew was so laid back. While they enjoyed going out on patrol or answering distress calls, they were all lax about the paperwork and follow-ups.
That affected her job. In her one week working there, she already had several minor skirmishes with some of the officers about getting reports done in time. None of them had taken offense at her abrasive attitude. Just the opposite, they appeared to delight in prodding her temper, finding some twisted form of amusement in it.
She had not let it bother her. There were more important things to worry about--like her case. This assignment was turning out to be a champ. Missing girls nobody could prove were dead, visions of a demonic serial killer and town full of werewolves, this was not the kind of investigation they'd trained her for in the FBI.
Not that the FBI would touch this case. They certainly wouldn't have assigned her a ghost for a partner. Technically the Masters of Cerberus hadn't assigned Kate to her.
Then again, Kate was not technically dead, either. She had just lost her body, or it had been stolen from her. Kate didn't know exactly how she had lost her physical form.
Not being a true ghost, Kate was not trapped into haunting a single location or person. She could travel to wherever she wanted. For reasons that were only known to the contrary apparition, she chose to annoy Claire.
Everything about her current assignment irritated Claire. The only thing that had gone her way was getting the job as the chief's assistant.
Of all the undercover assignments she'd done over the years, playing Dorothy Walker was the easiest. Being Dorothy, Claire could be the uptight, anal-retentive person she really was. All she had to remember was to respond to the name Dorothy.
"Hey, Derek! How'd the fishing go?"
Claire rolled her eyes as she listened the officers out in the small lobby greet their boss. About damn time the man showed up, not that she understood why he had bothered. In a half hour, it would be lunchtime.
Her phone rang, interrupting her silent criticism.
"Chief Jacob's office. How may I help you?" Claire pulled the message pad across her desk.
"I've got some news for you."
The sound of Mike's grim tone brought a scowl to Claire's face. If their organization were more formal, he would probably carry the title Director of the Southeastern District. As it was, his title was simply "Boss."
"What's up, boss?" Claire flicked the pen in her hand away as she tilted her chair back on two legs.
"You never call for any other reason."
She tried to make light of his comment, but her stomach muscles quivered with nerves. She had been waiting for this, expecting it for the past several days. When she stumbled into a pile, she normally ended up neck-deep in the manure. As it was, she was only up to her ass. She was due two more feet of crap.
"Agakiar was released yesterday afternoon."
That was not two feet. It was a full-scale drowning.
Claire lost her balance at that startling news, barely managing to stop from toppling backward. As the legs of the chair slammed down, she flew forward into the pile of papers on her desk. The neatly organized stacks fell into a chaotic mess on the floor with a plop.
"No. It took me two hours to organize all those reports. I stayed late last night to get it all done. Not that the jerk cares, showing up five hours late! What kind of example is that to set? I tell you, these small town badges have it too easy. It's no wonder they aren't even aware there's a killer running loose in their town!"
"Great. This is just great. So now what?" Claire slid to the floor. Attacking the files allowed her to vent some of the aggression prowling through her body.
"Now, nothing." Mike's voice remained calm.
"What do you mean nothing?"
"I mean nothing."
"You can't do nothing!"
"What would you have us do? We can't make the state's case for them. The only option is to eliminate him, and that can't be done without endangering you."
"So he just walks away?"
"We're going to monitor him. Don't worry, Claire, he's not going to get away with anything we can stop."
"So who are you going to send down here to replace me?" Claire cradled the phone between her shoulder and chin so she could restack the papers into a neat pile.
"Nobody. You're staying on the Wilsonville case."
"You can't leave me here in boondocks of South Carolina. I have a right to be in on whatever you've got planned for Agakiar."
"Sorry, kiddo, but that's too dangerous."
"Dangerous? How much more danger can I be in? I'm already branded."
"You could be in hell."
"And who says Wilsonville isn't hell?"
"Don't play dad, Mike. It's not your role."
"It's my job to keep you safe."
"Bullshit. You know my newfound psychic ability comes from that damned demon's brand. Every time I use my new gift, it strengthens Agakiar's connection to me. If you were really worried, you wouldn't have me on any case."
"You're making a really good argument for why I should lock you up in a safe house and let you rot, Claire."
"I thought that's why you sent me to this no-where town."
"No, I sent you there to find a serial killer. You should be glad I'm not pulling you completely out of the field."
"Gee, I'm overjoyed."
"We're not arguing about this. You focus on your case and leave Agakiar to us. Got that?"
"Guess I don't have a choice."
"You keep me posted and your guard up."
She did not bother to place the phone back on the hook, but dropped it on the floor so she could crawl further under the desk. It took a moment to round up all the scattered pages. As she checked to make sure she had collected everything, the flicker of white caught her attention.
A piece of paper was trapped between the back of the desk drawer. It was not one of her papers, but it annoyed her nonetheless. Everything had a proper place, and sticking out of a drawer was not it.
Tugging on it did not get the paper to budge. Narrowing her eyes, she yanked hard and the page ripped in half. The sudden loss of tension sent Claire falling back into the side of the desk.
She banged her head on the underside of the table. It was not her day, Claire grumbled as she rubbed the sore spot on the top her head. Slapping the scrap of paper on top of her files, she crawled back out from under the desk.
A pair of black boots crossed in the doorway drew her attention and her scowl. They were standard issue for the officers. She was not in the mood for any teasing. Sitting back on her heels, she looked up to give the man a set-down.
The words froze on her lips as the piercing blue gaze of the stranger trapped her eyes. He was large and heavily muscled. The charcoal gray shirt was pulled taut over a solid wall of steel.
His black slacks rode a little low on his hips, held down by the heavy gun belt. It added to the air of danger he exuded, emphasizing the narrowness of his hips and the thickness of his thighs.
Handsome was too pretty a word for his features. They were rough, rugged and inspired a primal thrill in her. His dark hair was a little long, falling around his ears and framing those amazing eyes.
Claire could sense the wolf prowling, stalking her, through those eyes. He was leaning against the doorframe. His stance was deceptively relaxed, but Claire wasn't buying into that lie.
She could feel the tension coiling in him as he studied her like a hunter sizing up the prey he was about to take down. Not with violence, though, but with barely restrained sexuality.
Her heart began to race as instinct whispered she should flee. Claire ground her teeth together, her hands curling into fists as she watched him sniff the air, scenting her arousal.
Her body's response to his blatantly sexual look riled her already inflamed temper. Narrowing her eyes on him, she rose to her feet. Carefully, she set the stack of files on her desk and replaced the receiver.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm Chief Jacob." The man nodded his head slightly. "You must be Dorothy."
"Very perceptive." Claire was unable to keep the sarcastic edge out of her tone.
"So you're my new assistant."
The smooth southern drawl dripped like honey down Claire's spine and pooled warmly between her legs. Claire clamped her thighs together in a futile effort to hide his effect on her.
She looked at Derek Jacob, keeping her eyes off his face and away from those captivating eyes. The problem with that tactic was it meant she had to look at the rest of him. His hard, toned muscles were no less mouthwatering, no less mesmerizing.
Her mouth went dry as she watched the bulge in his gray slacks grow impossibly larger. Quickly she looked away, feeling her panties dampen in response.
The bastard sniffed the air again and her eyes shot back to his face. The edges of his lips kicked up in a satisfied smile, and Claire knew exactly what she was dealing with. A werewolf.
Her eyes narrowed to dangerous slits as his gaze traveled downward, stopping and staying on her breasts. Despite her annoyance with the jerk, she felt her breasts tighten. Her nipples hardened, straining against the flimsy silk blouse.
The phone rang just then, jarring her out of her growing anger.
"Chief Jacob's office. How may I help you?"
Claire saw Derek snicker as her tone changed, becoming pleasant, almost cheerful. It was a farce. One she pulled off with ease as she listened to a breathless woman asking if the chief was in.
"Yes. May I ask who's calling?" Claire had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. With the Chief back, she was probably going to get a lot of these calls. No doubt, the man had a whole harem of women who loved hard-bodied men in uniform.
"Never mind." The line went dead before Claire could respond.
"Well, Assistant Dorothy." His joking use of her title had Claire's teeth grinding. "You ready to catch me up?"
"Of course, Chief Jacob." Claire managed not to snarl. Just barely, but she managed. Gathering his schedule, the files he needed to review, and papers needing his signature, she turned.
"After you." Derek gestured to the open door of his office.
Lucky girl. That man is sizzling.
Kate's hungry voice echoed through Claire's mind. Claire saw the ghost materialize for just a moment before fading back into the air. The apparition's habit of popping in and out always irritated Claire.
"Something wrong?" For the first time the chief sounded serious, almost alarmed as he looked around the room.
Yeah, he has too many clothes on.
Tell him to get naked.
"Nothing." Claire's words were sharper than necessary. This time though her annoyance was not directed at the chief.
Trying to ignore Kate, she focused on Derek. That was a mistake. Trapped in the small office with him not more than a foot away had a disastrous effect on her equilibrium. As sexy as he was at a distance, he was outright gorgeous close up.
The small scars on his forehead and chin, the bump from a break on his nose, the laugh lines around his mouth, every little flaw added to his appeal. Derek Keller was the living personification of the sexy bad-boy.
A walking wet dream, that's for damn sure.
Women don't have wet dreams, Claire mentally retorted, exasperated with the ghost.
The hell they can't.
I never had one.
I'm having one right now.
You don't have a body!
That's not stopping me.
Claire took a deep breath, trying to clear her head. It didn't help. She stepped back, trying to put some distance between them.
It was a futile effort, one the chief took notice of with a raised eyebrow. His infernal smug smile reappeared. Arrogant wolf, he was probably used to women responding this way to him.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine," Claire muttered.
"A little hot maybe?" The humor in his tone was evident. "You look a little flushed?"
"Hmm." He considered her for a moment. "You're breathing a little fast. You got asthma?"
"I said I was fine."
"No need to be snippy." Derek shrugged.
"I was just being polite."
Polite was not the word for what the man was being, but Claire held her opinion back behind clenched teeth.
"Are you ready to work?"
"By all means." Derek nodded to a chair as he moved around his desk. "Have a seat and let's get to it."