Must Love Hellhounds
with Charlaine Harris, Ilona Andrews, and Nalini Singh
The job was simple: find her boss’s niece, bring her home safely, and hand out a whole lot of pain to whoever had abducted her. But Maggie hadn’t counted on her boss’s nephew, the hellhound who loved to make her life difficult, or her own past rearing its complicated and ugly head.
Note to my readers: Although MUST LOVE HELLHOUNDS was published a month before DEMON FORGED, the story in the anthology takes place after the events of DEMON FORGED.
“Page-turning romance…” –Publishers Weekly
The Story So Far
Are you starting with this book? Do you want a series refresher before starting the next? Catch up on The Story So Far in the Guardian series primer.
READ AN EXCERPT
That morning, two hours after she received an anonymous e-mail that included an address and a short message, Maggie Wren boarded a flight from San Francisco to New York. Accompanied by the hellhound that Maggie’s employer had demanded she bring with her, she arrived at JFK mid-afternoon. The address led her to a brownstone in Brooklyn. Despite the busy streets and the glaring sun that exposed her movements, she picked the lock at the front door and dismantled the security system.
With a silent hand gesture, she instructed the hellhound to check the first level. Upstairs, the first two bedrooms stood open and empty, except for a shirt and jeans strewn over the floor of the second. Maggie kicked through a third door when she found it locked.
Her target — Geoffrey Blake — was sitting naked on the wooden floor, handcuffed to a radiator. He’d drawn his knees up and rested his back against the wall beneath a lace-curtained window. Although her foot slamming against the door could have woken the dead, his eyes remained closed.
Maggie swept the room with her gun before shoving the weapon into the holster beneath her blazer.
She crossed to Blake’s side, retrieving her lock picks from her jacket’s inside pocket. He wasn’t completely naked, she noted. Her gaze skipped to his black jockey undershorts as she crouched and reached for the handcuffs. Yellow smiley faces grinned up at her from the elastic waistband.
“At least someone is happy to see me,” Maggie said. Or maybe the smiley faces were just thrilled to be hugging his muscled abdomen. Smug little bastards.
“I would be,” Blake replied in a deep, dry voice, “if I could see you.”
He raised his head and opened his eyes, revealing irises of light blue — and no pupils. From rim to rim, the color was solid.
Maggie’s fingers twitched. The metal pick slipped out of the keyhole and jabbed his wrist. She murmured an apology, her mind racing.
Blind. Yet nothing in Blake’s dossier had indicated it. How had he kept the disability unlisted on his official records? Why keep it hidden?
And why hadn’t Maggie’s employer prepared her before she’d flown across the country to rescue him? More than that — what the hell had her employer been thinking by letting Blake come to New York alone? Had he actually expected his nephew — a man who couldn’t see, for God’s sake — to track down the woman who’d disappeared from a New York hotel room two days ago?
That the woman was Blake’s sister was even more reason not to have sent him. Caring too much led to carelessness. Which, Maggie thought, was probably why Blake was handcuffed to a radiator.
But at least his blindness explained why her employer had insisted that she bring the dog.
“You didn’t know,” Blake said.
Maggie worked at the lock, pulling herself out of assignment mode and slipping back into the deferential courtesy required by her newest occupation: household management and personal security.
Which, she’d often thought, was just a nice way of saying that she was a butler with a gun.
She popped the first cuff, moved on to the second. “Mr. Ames-Beaumont must have considered your blindness irrelevant to my objective, sir.”
“Is it relevant?”
“No, sir.” She had to get Blake out of here, either way.
“Sir?” His faint smile didn’t soften his strong features. The beginnings of a dark beard shadowed his jaw. His nose, Maggie thought, would have done a Stoic emperor proud. “If you are calling me ‘sir,’ then you must be the recently acquired — and, according to Uncle Colin, the already indispensable — Winters.”
There was no point in correcting him. She’d been called more offensive names before. And she didn’t know why Ames-Beaumont had taken to calling her ‘Winters,’ but considering the salary he paid her, she’d decided that he could address her however he wished.
The billionaire owner of Ramsdell Pharmaceuticals had high standards for his employees — and the closer to his family those employees were, the higher those standards were.
And he’d called her indispensable. Not easily disposed of and replaced. She’d never been that before.
But she couldn’t afford to acknowledge the warm glow the second-hand praise brought, or the despair that it would change.
Yes, “Winters” was much better than what he’d soon be calling her.
“You are correct, sir.” Despite the tightening of her throat, her voice remained even. “I am.”
“Of course you are. And, of course, when we finally meet, I am like this.” Blake gestured at himself with his free hand. “Do you know why you’ve found me half naked? Do you know what this is?”
Finally meet? He’d said that as if they’d communicated before. Maggie was certain they hadn’t. Blake had been in Britain during the three months she’d begun working for his uncle. Before that, he’d traveled as often and as extensively as she had, but they’d never been in the same place at the same time — with one exception, four years ago. Maggie hadn’t seen him then; she would have remembered. And he couldn’t have seen her.
So whatever he meant by ‘finally,’ it had little to do with her. More likely, it referenced a conversation between him and his uncle — perhaps the one where she’d been described as indispensable. “I don’t know, sir. What is this?”
“This is karma. This is every negative thing I’ve done, coming back to take a big bite of my ass.”
The tightness in her throat eased. She strove to match the light tone his response invited. “That is unfortunate. Particularly as, in my professional opinion, the consequences of your actions are worse than you imagine.”
“Why do you say that, Winters?”
“Because you are much more than half naked, sir. And although I have many talents, protecting you from mystical karmic forces is not one of them.”
He tilted his head, as if weighing that. “So chances are, I’ll lose my shorts before we’re done.”
She ignored the little jolt in her stomach as his smile widened, carving crescents beside his mouth. In the humid air, his overlong hair had curled over his forehead and at his neck and ears. Combined with the smile, his dishevelment was unexpectedly appealing.
The job, Maggie. “We’ll try to avoid that, sir.”