Special Agent Rob Hunter lives to protect. After all, it's what unicorn shifters have done since God created virgins. When his best friend asks him to help his little sister recuperate after she's injured, Rob doesn't hesitate. He has fond memories of the sweet little tomboy who chased after them when they were kids.
But half-phoenix Kenna Monroe has grown up into a sexy, smart-mouthed vixen with a chip on her shoulder when it comes to relationships. As an ex-cop who now leads a crack team of commandos into pockets of paranormal resistance, she needs a champion even less than she needs her childhood crush reawakening all her old feelings.
So what's a traditional unicorn to do when the woman he's falling for isn't a virgin, doesn't need protection and is hotter in bed than any sane man can resist?
Protect and Serve: Shifting Heat
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Copyright ©2012 Cassidy McKay
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"Commander, we have a call in Birkdale County. Local police need assistance in pursuit of a theft suspect going into the Rogue district. The heli crew is standing by for your orders."
"Fine. Load 'em up, Tank. And don't think I didn't notice you ducking out on me earlier, you chicken."
His deep, rumbled laughter rolls out like an old steam locomotive. "I know what happens when you drink that fake stuff, Boss. I'm a lot smarter than the zombie you kicked the mold out of the last time we ran out of java."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. We follow regulations around here, remember?" The good stuff -- with real caffeine and real sugar -- is only available in certain questionable markets now. Some research group a few years ago said sugar and caffeine caused aggression, so the PTB outlawed it. Idiots.
I got hooked on the real thing when I was a street cop.
"Sure, Boss. By the way, your 'office supplies' will be delivered by courier tomorrow morning, so if you can make it through the day without killing anyone, we'll be doing well." My second's sense of humor is surpassed only by his penchant for playing practical jokes. Never mind that he's just a few inches shy of seven feet tall and as broad as a barn -- that man is nothing but a naughty little boy on steroids with a fondness for guns, girls, and fighting. Still, we work well together and we're friends.
I shoot a glare his direction as we run down the corridor to the 'vator that takes us to the helipad on the roof. "Have you forgotten who's in charge of this little circus?"
"Not for a second, Commander Monroe. Your chariot awaits." He gestures to the retired army-issue heli before us that's filled with my crew. I nod to the two other men of my team bristling with weapons, and take my seat, put on my headphones and hold on to the handle as we ascend, heading for the city.
The last time I was here, all hell broke loose. Okay, that happens all the time, especially when I'm around, but that's my job. It's what I do, and I'm good at it. When the shit hits the fan, they call my team in to clean it up. I'm Commander Kenna Monroe, and we're part of the Emergency Response Unit. In the old "techie" days before the Urban Shift, they used to call people like us out for natural disasters and the like. Now, those things are pushed to the back burner -- we have deadlier things to worry about than Mother Nature.
I used to be a cop, and a damned good one, too. Until I messed up and fell in love and in bed with my partner. I've learned a lot since then. I don't make my bed where I work, and I keep my feelings locked up. Sex is a release, nothing more.
Now I make my own rules, run my own team, and I get to kick ass and take names later. I even rescue people once in a while, though I'm usually sent after the kind of criminals the local cops either can't or won't contain. So long as I get them off the streets, my superiors don't really care whether I bring them in dead or alive. Dead is usually easier -- they don't talk back as much that way. Unless they're some sort of undead. But heroism runs in my genes, so I try to keep most of them breathing.
Unless they piss me off.
As the thumping of the rotors pound staccato hammers into my head, I pray for my "office supplies" to come a little early. Lord knows the caffeine would be welcome.
* * *
Might as well hang a flashing neon sign on my forehead reading "Rob Hunter -- Overprotective Unicorn for Hire." I'm a sucker for a hard luck story, so when my best friend and sometimes partner Griff Monroe called and said his little sister needed help, I came running. I'm a unicorn shifter, and helping maidens in distress is what I do.
My family has been in the protection business since virgins were invented. I'm sure you've probably heard all the jokes about unicorns and their horns. I'll admit I do like the ladies. But not when I'm on the job, and certainly not anyone I'm protecting. It's all in good fun, at least until I find that one special virgin to take as a mate. Sure it sounds sappy and romantic, but it happens to most unicorns eventually. It's in the job description, at least in my book.
Griff didn't give me much background on what happened with his sister, other than she'd been injured and needed someone to help out while she recovered. While I'm not normally the babysitting type, it's been a rough year. I've been living on adrenaline and caffeine more often than not, and the R&R I'll get while Griff's little sis recovers is more than welcome. I know he'd do it himself if he could. I have some time off I need to burn, anyway.
I work for the government, part of a not-so-secret agency called the Paranormal Action Committee. We make sure that paranormal rights are upheld. PAC has been in existence since the Urban Shift, when humans abandoned the crime-ridden cities for more rural areas, and paras came out of the closet and into the limelight. Rogues on both sides took over the cities, and we've been fighting to get them back ever since. That's why I have a job. I'm one of the good guys.
The automatic doors of the hospital entrance slide open before me, sucking the moist air inside the hospital like a frantic grasp for vitality. The scent of disinfectant quickly overshadows the stink of despair, but I can still sense it in the shadows, waiting to pounce. I push it to the back of my mind and look for Kenna's room number. Griff is supposed to meet me here and smooth the transition, since I haven't seen her for years.
Last time I saw Griff's sister was before he and I went into the army. She was in high school then. Stick-thin, shy, and kept to herself. I have to grin when I think of how much we used to harass her. She followed us everywhere when we were growing up. Kenna was a pretty good kid, but man, did she have a temper! She got a raw deal over not being able to shift, though she was easy to set off no matter what the reason. Half phoenix, half human, her shifter magic was more likely to sputter than spark.
While Griff and I weren't the only ones who teased her about it, we were probably the worst. He's half-human, too -- but the other half is gryphon. They have the same mom, but different dads.
I stride down the hallway, looking for room 212. The signs posted on the stark white walls point to the left and I skid to a stop when a nurse pushing a gurney blocks the hall in front of the elevator.
"Sorry." The nurse looks tired, overworked and annoyed. She shrugs, motioning toward the closed door of the elevator with a nod. "Damned elevator takes forever."
"It's okay. I'm not in a hurry. There's always time to talk with a beautiful woman." I wink and she fights back a smile as we pass the time waiting for the elevator to descend.
Griff's voice sounds from a room about halfway down the corridor. They're arguing, as usual. Some things never change. "You scared us, squirt. I had to call in a lot of markers to find out you were here."
"I'm fine, Griff."
"You're going to need someone with you, Kenna. At least until you get on your feet again. You know that, right?"
Their voices lower even further and the nurse smiles at me when the elevator chimes. I wait until she's safely inside before I continue. I don't want to be rude, after all.
Griff turns as I enter the room, his finger in front of his mouth. Great. Apparently he hasn't told her. He always did like to tweak her nose.
Kenna is sitting up in the hospital bed, a bandage over her eyes. For some reason, I still expect to see the skinny tomboy who had a schoolgirl crush on me. Damned if she hasn't grown up into a little hot-pocket of a Venus. She has the same short red hair, but that's where the resemblance to the waif I'd known ended. She's always been cute, but who'd have thought she'd turn out like this?