You Had Me at Jaguar

With: Terry Spear

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They’re not the only ones on the prowl…but they’re the most dangerous…

The United Shifter Force gives jaguar agent Howard Armstrong an impossible task—to protect fierce she-jaguar Valerie Chambers, when the last thing she wants is protecting. They’re going international to take down a killer and he can guard Valerie all day long. But guard his heart? He doesn’t stand a chance.

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EXCERPT

As soon as he’d seen the striking redhead
again, he was reminded of how she’d pinned him down during training. She’d cast
him the wickedest smile. With his back on the floor and her on top of him, he
couldn’t help smiling back at her. Of course, after her unorthodox move, the
testers had made a new rule—no one was to move before the bell rang—because
they were afraid they’d have chaos otherwise. When they’d mentioned the new
rules, Howard had glanced in Val’s direction, and she’d given him a
cat-that-ate-the-mouse look similar to the one he’d given her when she was
lying on top of him at the training. He’d smiled back at her, thinking they
might really have had a chance to date.

The three branches—the Enforcers, JAG, and
Guardians—all had a common mission: deal with jaguar shifters who posed a
threat to humans and shifters alike, though each handled different situations.
The Guardians focused more on providing aid to injured jaguars, while the JAG
went after the rogues, or humans who were dealing in jaguars. The end
result—incarceration or death for the rogues—depended on the situation. The
Enforcers were sent to terminate murdering jaguars. Period. They didn’t
consider jail time for the offender.

Howard and Jillian were now with the USF, a special
section of the JAG that took care of jaguars and wolves creating trouble or in
trouble. They were currently the only two agents who had a break between cases.
Since Howard was a former Enforcer, his boss felt he would be right for the
job. The branches worked together when necessary, but usually all the agents
involved would be well aware of the situation.

Jillian was mated to Vaughn, a gray wolf SEAL
who was busy tracking down a murderous wolf with the two other jaguar team
members of the USF. They hadn’t needed Jillian and Howard too.

Jillian got another text, the fourth one in a
half hour. She texted back.

Howard didn’t have to guess who it was from.
“Vaughn should have taken you with him.”

“This guy that Val is trying to neutralize is
supposed to be a lot less violent than the one Vaughn’s team is trying to track
down. At least as far as the general population is concerned. Benny’s wife was
a different story.”

“I still wish Martin had allowed us to tell
Val we are here watching her back.”

“The boss said she doesn’t like working with
anyone else. Since many Enforcers work alone, she’d think her boss felt she
couldn’t handle the case on her own. How well do you know her?” Jillian asked.

“I’ve been in training with her. Never worked
with her though. She’s got some kick-ass moves, and I have to say she’s
extremely quick-witted.”

Jillian smiled at him. “Did she ever get the
best of you?”

He gave her a dark smile back. “Not that I’d
ever admit to.” He ordered another beer. “You know, her mother, Gladys, was the
first female Enforcer we had, and she and her mate, Jasper, are still on the
force.”

“Wow. They don’t want to leave all the
excitement behind?”

“That’s about it. They’re both good people,
wanting to right the wrong and deal with the bad guys. And Gladys wanted to
prove to her dad, who was an Enforcer, that she could do as good a job as any
man. She and her mate have one of the highest success rates for eliminating
rogue jaguars. They make a great team. But there has to be a time when
Enforcers need to retire, when they might not be as quick to react or as strong
as they had once been. Their boss just doesn’t want to force retirement on
them. Not while they’ve been so successful, despite being in their golden
years.”

“I think it’s great. Better to die doing what
you love than live to an old age wishing you were still fighting the good
fight.”

He smiled at Jillian. “Easy for you to say.
Your kind lives much longer than we do. What a deal.”

“True. You know, Val’s been watching you. And
she’s been watching the entrance. Do you think she’s onto us?”

“I doubt it. What would the odds be that
Martin would send two of his USF agents to protect an Enforcer in a simple
takedown operation without her being informed?”

“Not likely. Do you want to dance?” Jillian
grabbed Howard’s hand before he could object.

“Hell, do you want this to get back to Vaughn?
As a SEAL wolf, he’d kill me.”

Jillian laughed. “He knows we’re undercover,
and this is just for fun. You never dated Val?”

“No. I never dated anyone in the Enforcer branch.
How do you know she’s been watching me?” he asked as they danced to the loud
beat, the lights flashing all over the dance floor. “Wait. It was when you went
to the ladies’ room. That’s why you took so long to return. You were observing
her.”

“And others. And you.”

“Me? I wasn’t about to blow our cover. What if
she had a meltdown because we’re here to protect her?”

“You did good. You only looked her way five
times and only when she was busy ordering a drink, telling a patron to bug off,
and looking around at other people at the time. If you had caught her eye
though, then what?”

“I would have waved. She knows me. I know her.
It would be foolish to pretend I didn’t recognize her.”

They continued to dance to the faster beat,
which Howard was glad for. He really didn’t want Vaughn to get any ideas about
him and Jillian.

“You ought to ask her to dance. You’re no
longer an Enforcer. Then she’ll know we’re not together in a
boyfriend/girlfriend way. It might help our mission if it looks like we’re just
here to have fun.”

“She’s on a job.”

“Right. But you aren’t supposed to know that.
You’d be her cover too, though she wouldn’t realize it.”

“All right. You just don’t want it to get back
to your mate that I only danced with you.”

Jillian laughed.

He led her back to the table, but the next
dance was a slow dance, and he wasn’t going to ask Val then. Not that he didn’t
want to, but he hated being here under false pretenses, as far as Val was
concerned. What if they got a little too hot and heavy on the dance floor, as
he’d like to with her, and then she learned he was only there on an assignment?

He sat down across from Jillian.

She smiled. “Coward.”

“Next dance.” But it was a slow one too. “Next
fast dance,” he clarified.