Special Security Agent Sebastian Berlin is eager to track down his partner’s killer. Instead, he’s assigned the job of baby-sitting a scientist. His boss thinks she’s the key to an Ancient Warrior Prophecy. Science never interested Sebastian, but the know-it-all female standing at the end of his Alaskan dock could persuade him to do a little experimenting. That is, if he can keep his Neanderthal Warrior genes from taking control.
DNA specialist Lily Sinclair is in need of a vacation, or so her over-protective ex-husband tells her. Arriving in chilly Alaska instead of sunny Cancun, she’s tired and cranky and so not in the mood for her bodyguard’s he-man tactics. Still, there’s something about the sexy eye-candy that makes her want to lick him all over even as she’s demanding to go home.
Then Lily’s ex is poisoned, and Sebastian is certain the two murders are connected and she could be next. She knows he’s hiding something, but with the worldwide release of Neanderthal DNA project only days away, she has no choice but to trust him to protect her. But can she trust him with her heart?
Like a ray of truth, the sun’s welcoming glow peeked over the horizon. Sebastian Berlin leaned back and set in motion the rocker in which he sat. For months now, he had been on the road, working on special projects for Ledger’s Management Service Organization. Granted, his assignments didn’t exactly match the tasks listed in his job description. Though, it did provide the perfect cover for an elite number of team members, him included.
Content to be at home, he looked across his back porch at the water lapping against the shore. Mountains and lush foliage played across the Alaskan landscape. At a little past four a.m. in the morning, most places in the world were dark, not here, not at the original birthplace of his ancestors.
He chuckled at the nostalgic concept and speculated at the cause.
The ringing of his phone interrupted his musing. He noted the caller—Rex Ledger, his boss, and definitely not a person to blow off.
Sebastian tapped a finger on the display screen. “Hey, what’s up, Chief?” A disgruntled huff rang through the phone before Rex replied, “We’ve got a problem.”
“So what’s new? Isn’t that the only reason you ever call me?” The idea of having to leave on a mission again so soon after returning home from an assignment tightened the muscles in his gut. Who needed help this time?
“Yes, well, this is a special case.” Rex hesitated as if uncertain how to proceed.
Sebastian held his breath, knowing instinctively he’d hear bad news. A list of his family, friends, and other tribe members who might be sick or in trouble ran through his head. One name jumped to the forefront…his grandfather.
“I hate to tell you, but we found Cain’s body last night. He took two slugs in the chest.”
Relief, followed quickly by shock, filled Sebastian.
A numbing sense of disbelief overwhelmed him. “What the hell? I thought he was working on a simple security detail.” “Did he discuss his assignment with you?”
Sebastian ran a hand through his hair and scrambled to recall his last conversation with his best friend. Cain had called a week ago with a request for information on the people he’d been assigned to protect in California. His voice had reflected a bored almost disgusted tone. At the time, Sebastian had held his tongue and didn’t comment, but later he questioned the anomaly. His friend loved life and never became discouraged even when the odds were against him.
Frowning, Sebastian rubbed a hand over his neck, stroking the hairs that suddenly stood on alert. His initial disbelief faded. A gaping hole widened before him and stretched into an endless sea of despair. What the hell would he do without his best friend, his confidant? “No. He asked me for a background check on a few people. The only name I can remember is Karen
Winslow. She’s the daughter of a rich and powerful lawyer. He locked up her inheritance in a trust fund, which required her to stay out of trouble. Not really, a problem considering the woman is pushing sixty.”
Taking a cleansing breath and swallowing the lump in his throat, he forced back the misery that threatened to overwhelm him. “I got back to Cain a day or two later with the information. I haven’t heard from him since.”
“Shit, I was hoping he confided in you.”
“What’s going on, Rex? What was Cain’s assignment?”
“Yeah, right, and what isn’t?” Sebastian tightened his free hand into a fist, his grief for his friend fighting with the sudden desire for revenge.
“Last time I talked to your grandfather, he said you had no interest in our genetic heritage.” Rex’s dismissive tone indicated the end of the conversation. “I need to contact, Grant. I’ll talk to you—”
“Don’t screw with me, Rex.” Sebastian filled his lungs with fresh air. He’d suspected, from the moment
Rex started talking, he had an ulterior motive for calling. “We both know you didn’t call to tell me about Cain’s death out of the goodness of your heart. His assignment is somehow related to our history, so tell me what he was involved in?”
Sebastian waited for a snide remark or a sharp reminder of Rex’s status within their community. Even if Rex didn’t hold an official position among the tribal leaders because of his age, his insight into the future influenced every decision the tribe made. As a seer, he predicted the outcome of events with what some claimed a hundred percent accuracy.
Even though, the three of them had grown up together. Sebastian wouldn’t claim to have a close relationship with Rex. In fact, hardly anyone in the community spoke to him. Even fewer claimed him as a friend. The man talked with only a select few on a regular basis, Sebastian’s grandfather being one of them.
“The stakes are high on this assignment, life and death. Not just for you but for others as well. We’re working to stay ahead of a scientific discovery that will have untold ramifications.” The dire tone of Rex’s words held the same ominous warnings as his grandfather’s timeworn tales.
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “What exactly are we worried about?”
“Scientists are working to extract DNA from a forty-thousand-year old Neanderthal bone. They hope to compare it with modern human’s genome,” Rex stated somberly.
Struggling to comprehend how the anthropological discovery would have anything to do with Cain’s death,
Sebastian wrestled with how best to obtain clear-cut answers. “And how is that a problem for us?”
“We are descendants of Neanderthals.”
Sebastian didn’t see the significance of the discovery. From what he remembered of his science classes in college, people across the world shared similar DNA. Growing more irritable by Rex’s vague answers, Sebastian struggled to keep his anger in check.
“Again, how is it a problem?” “The discovery will provide our enemies with another piece to the puzzle that could potentially derail our destiny. We don’t want to give them a way of tracking our unique abilities.”
Awe, shit, not this again. His grandfather had claimed for years, certain people in their tribe possessed special talents that were rare and unavailable to most humans. Sebastian never believed the elaborate tales alleging his people exhibited mystical powers. Yes, a few like Rex had glimpses into the future while others boasted the skills such as predicting the weather or understanding the forces of nature.
Hell, he could even tell when people were lying. Was he special? No. Simply more observant than
most. Even if his grandfather insisted that wasn’t the case, Sebastian refused to debate the point with Rex or anyone else. “Great, then you know who killed Cain. So tell me, and I’ll head to California and pick up the guy.” Rex cleared his throat. “I only wish I could, but my visions haven’t revealed any usable information as to who’s responsible for his death. I can tell you the details of his assignment if you’re willing to join the
Sebastian slammed his fist down on the arm of the rocker, intuitively aware of how Rex was using his friendship with Cain to ensure his cooperation. “Start talking.”
“I sent Cain to California as a favor to Mark Winslow. He owns a genetic lab, which is currently working on the Neanderthal project. He wanted us to review his security system. The lab’s research is being released July eleventh in a prestigious scientific magazine.” Rex paused. The rustlings of papers filtered through the phone. Sebastian stood. His knees wobbled, the heavy burden of his friend’s death settling on his shoulders.
He grabbed for the back of the rocker to steady himself. His chest ached. A nauseating bile threatened to explode from his mouth, and his stomach rolled. He struggled to walk the few steps to the back door.
After a moment, Rex continued, “Cain checked the security system at the lab and upgraded it two weeks ago. All looked good, but Mark was still worried his lead scientist, Lily Winslow was vulnerable.”
The name sounded familiar. Pushing back his grief, Sebastian recalled bits and pieces of the reports he ran on the people associated with the case. “That’s Winslow’s daughter, isn’t it? She graduated from high school at fifteen and received her doctorate by twenty.
She’s a genius, right?”
“Yes, well, she is smart, but not his daughter. She’s his ex-wife.”
“Whoa, isn’t Mark Winslow in his sixties?”
Sebastian picked up his pace and hurried to his office, eager to bring up the data he’d collected for Cain.
“He is, but they were married for a while. It didn’t work out. Now, he’s planning to marry someone else, but he required we ensure Lily’s safety as well. In an attempt to appease him, we assigned Bruce Michaels as her bodyguard.”
Sebastian clicked a few buttons on his computer and brought up the file on her. “Wait. Isn’t she still living at his house?”
“Yes. Mark said with all the extra hours she’s been putting in, Lily hasn’t found a new place to live. That’s where you come in, Sebastian.”
“And how the hell—” “Hold up, let me finish. Mark is still determined she take some time off. I am sending her up to stay with you for a week. It’ll give you time to get to know her and hopefully find out what’s been happening in the lab. When she’s ready to return, you can go back to California with her.” Rex paused.
“That’s not what I agreed to when I said I’d take on this assignment,” Sebastian snapped. “I’m—”
“I have others looking into Cain’s murder. You need to quiz Lily on the project. I believe this is a call to action for us, and I want to be briefed on everything they’ve learned so far.”
“What if I say no?”
“You won’t. I’ve already made all the arrangements. Bruce is bringing her up on my private plane today and dropping her off at your place. Then he’s returning to California. I’ll call you later with her estimated time of arrival.”
“Wait just a—” A click and then silence.
“Shit.” Sebastian tossed his cell onto his desk and dropped his head in his hands. The grief he’d been trying to avoid consumed him, and tears ran unchecked down his cheeks.
Several warming dishes, a platter of biscuits, and a bowl of fruit sat on the sideboard waiting for the other occupants of the house to come downstairs for breakfast.
Lily Sinclair Winslow scanned the display with distaste. Food this early in the morning had never been her version of how to start the day. Perhaps after being awake for a few hours, she might go for a snack.
Turning her attention to the table, she noted Mark’s orange juice next to his plate. His vitamins sat on the saucer, which held his empty coffee cup. To his right was Olivia Hart’s place setting. A single red rose highlighted the pristine white china. Mark insisted his fiancée deserved a romantic gift every day. Flowers were his favorite choice of indulgence.
Rolling her eyes at the silly gesture, Lily scanned the other dishware and figured the whole gang must be attending the meeting this morning. To the left side of Mark would be Zane Wheaton, his business partner and best friend. Next to him, Violet Dodson. She had been
Mark’s assistant for so long, some claimed they were joined at the hip.
Lily smiled. The way the two of them debated every point, one would almost assume they were adversaries. However, usually the arguments stemmed from what Mark should or shouldn’t do with his time and money.
“Hey, Lily, I thought you’d be gone by now.”
Lily turned. Her foot hit her suitcase, and her purse bumped against her side. She tucked her handbag underneath her arm as Devin Fleetwood stepped through the front door.
As her assistant, he regularly visited her at home. To avoid the hassle of answering the door whenever he arrived, she’d given him a key. He walked across the foyer. His lean body encased in a pair of faded jeans and a Giant’s T-shirt. The casual clothing showed his uncaring temperament for standing on formalities and added a silent snub to Mark, who required professional dress when discussing company business.
A lock of dark brown hair fell across Devin’s right eye, and he brushed it back with a quick sweep of his hand. Long fingers spoke of his creative nature. The frown on his lips pointed out his tendency to worry. However, the one trait concerning Lily the most at the moment had to do with the more recent pale coloring of his skin.
For weeks now, he’d been struggling to get his work done. She’d suggested he visit a doctor, but he insisted it was nothing more than stress.
“It’s Saturday. Why aren’t you sneaking off to spend the day with your new girlfriend?” Lily glanced at the table. “Or did Mark call a meeting?”
“No, I did.” Olivia appeared from the end of the hallway, her heels clicking loudly on the marble floor. In her normal fashion of dressing for every occasion, she wore a tight, knit dress that accented every slick curve.
Lily held back a groan at her slightly more comfortable outfit of slacks and a silk button-down shirt. If she left the house in anything less formal, Mark would complain she wasn’t putting her best foot forward and representing her position at the lab properly.
Olivia rested her hands on her round hips. “I wanted to clarify for everyone that just because you are away this week, it did not mean Mark was taking up the slack. If anyone has a problem they can’t handle for themselves, they should talk to me before, and I stress before, they bother him.”
Lily swallowed her amusement at Olivia’s attempts to control Mark. He might love her, but nothing kept him from doing exactly what he planned to do, when he planned to do it. “Then I hope you plan to keep him busy with making arrangements for the wedding.
Because they won’t have to look very hard to find him. He’s been camped out in their offices. He’s so excited about this Neanderthal announcement. I’ve seen him in the lab every day for the last three weeks.”
“That’s right. Normally, we’re lucky to see him once a week.” Devin prowled forward and grabbed the handle of Lily’s suitcase. “I’ll take this out to the limo for you.”
“What? I thought Bruce was driving me to the airport.” Lily turned back to Olivia. “Did Mark arrange this?”
“No. I arranged for the car.” Bruce Michaels walked in from the formal living room, drawing all eyes to his muscular form. Built like a prizefighter and having a rough commanding voice, he captured everyone’s attention whenever he walked into a room or uttered a word. He stopped Devin and took possession of her luggage. “I’ll take care of this while you say your goodbyes, Miss Lily.”
“I told you. It’s just Lily.” She shook her head and smiled at Devin, who appeared lost as to what he should do now.
Bruce didn’t respond and merely strolled out the front door, her bag in his hand.
“I guess I should get a move on.” Lily turned to Olivia. “Is Mark in his office?”
“No, I’m right here, my dear.” Mark exited the hallway where Olivia had emerged a few moments earlier. “I wanted to tell you before Bruce hustles you out the door that Jenkins took care of the computer glitch we’ve been having in the lab. Also, there’s really no need for you to travel so far away. My cabin up near the Redwood forest is empty, and you can head up there.”
“No, I’m looking forward to seeing beautiful beaches with lots of sunshine.” Sidestepping Olivia, Lily walked into Mark’s embrace. Her arms circled his waist, and her lips brushed his cheek before she hugged him tight. For seven long years, the man stood in the center of her world. Yes, she loved him, but no, she wasn’t in love with him. She’d learned the hard way the distinction between the two.
“Please behave while I’m away,” she whispered and tiptoed back to stare up into his wrinkled face, framed by light brown hair. White streaks highlighted his temples. Amused gray eyes met hers.
“Now, you know I’ll be fine. In the tropics, you’ll have lots of sunshine and an ocean breeze to enjoy.” He pulled his usual stunt of ignoring her advice and switched the subject.
“Right, and mind, Olivia.” Lily smiled at the other woman. “Hopefully, you can get him to relax. I’ll be home by Friday, so I’ll field any questions that might pop up regarding the Neanderthal project.”
The thought of dealing with the press’ endless questions sent an unwelcome shiver down her spine, but she shoved aside her anxiety of dealing with a crowd and turned away from Mark.
He released her and wrapped an arm around
Olivia’s shoulders. “Don’t worry. My beautiful fiancée and I have scores of shopping to do for our wedding.
We’ll even pick up a dress for you.”
Lily cringed inside at what they’d choose. Something she’d be sure to hate, but she’d wear it to appease them. The perpetual price she continued to pay for becoming involved with a man who acted more like her father than her ex-husband or boss.
“Just have fun.” With a conspiratorial wink at
Olivia, Lily noticed Devin still standing by the door. She walked to him, calling to mind the projects currently needing his attention at work. “Devin, you should probably take a few days off this week, too.
There’s not anything urgent happening at the lab, and with the university on break, your girlfriend is undoubtedly getting ready to head home. Try to enjoy some time together before she’s gone for the rest of the summer.”
“Funny, she said the same thing last night.” He reached into his shirt and pulled out a plastic card. “She even gave me this to give you as a going away present.”
Lily noted the gift came from her favorite convenience store. Unlike most people, she liked the coffee from the same place she bought her gas, no five dollar cup-of-Joe for her.
“How very sweet of her. Maybe, when I get back, we can do lunch or something together.” Lily slipped the card into the side pocket of her purse and patted
Devin’s shoulder. “Remember, if there’s any problem, I’m only a phone call away.”
She blushed, automatically self-conscious, her brief display of affection an unusual abnormality. She didn’t touch or hug anyone other than Mark and never, if ever, in front of others. “Sorry.”
“No problem, I won’t file an inappropriate behavior report against you,” Devin teased.
Her cheeks burned, and she glanced back into the house. Voices rang down the hallway in the direction of Mark’s office. She whispered under her breath, “See, I told you, you’d get me in trouble someday.” “Well, it won’t be today. Mark and Olivia are heading into the dining room, and if you don’t hurry, you will have to say goodbye to Violet and Zane, too.”
Devin ushered her through the door and onto the front stoop.
“Right, and from the glare Bruce is giving me, I’m running late.” Lily offered a brief wave and rushed to the limo. Finally, she’d have some time to herself.
After settling back into the seat of the limo, she studied the leather upholstery and suffered the unwanted presence of the man beside her.
So much for being alone.
Bruce had been her constant companion over the past few days. Yet, she didn’t exactly understand why she required a personal bodyguard. When the limo stopped at the light, marking the exit from her neighborhood, she glanced at him and then back out the window.
Mark had repeatedly claimed they needed the extra security because of the Neanderthal project. His reasoning made little sense to her. The DNA testing they’d done shouldn’t have warranted any additional precaution. After all, their facility had only offered support to the main laboratory in Germany.
The only rational conclusion was, Mark knew something she didn’t and had determined she needed protection. Moreover, no matter how much she assured him she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, he wouldn’t listen.
She could only blame herself for his overprotective attitude. She should have moved out after their divorce, but Mark had convinced her she didn’t need to bother. In truth, she hadn’t cared one way or the other, because she’d spent little to no time at home. Her life revolved around work.
Still, when she returned from her trip, she had to find a new place to live and finally move out from under Mark’s rule.
Glancing again at Bruce, she mustered up the courage to ask the question she’d been dreading the answer to since she entered the car. “So are you accompanying me on my vacation, too?”