Los Angeles Detective Shaine Conlon gets more than he bargains for during a routine inquiry with Gavriel de Pamana, owner of an elite, mysterious security company called C.L.O.S.E. Shaine’s partner, Jesse, is convinced the firm is shady and wants to investigate claims that one of C.L.O.S.E.’s star bodyguards, a young Asian woman named Tinglan, may have come onto the female pop star she was supposed to protect. For Shaine, visiting the office of the company’s Century City headquarters is disturbing. Giant white paintings lining the hallways seem to have bleeding wounds. As for the owner himself, he’s the sexiest man and also the most troubling Shaine’s ever met. Gavriel de Pamana runs a tight ship in the new world of female bodyguards trained in China and dispatched all over the world to protect the richest people on the planet, so he’s stunned by allegations that his star employee would behave in any way to reflect badly on the company. But Gavriel has secrets…deep and undeadly ones. He’s a vampire, and so are his staff members. When Tinglan vanishes, he wonders if somebody in his firm is working to destroy him. Not only that, but Gavriel finds himself attracted to Shaine Conlon. But he can’t get close to a cop, a human one at that. Or can he?
As the detectives took seats opposite de Pamana, she put the tray on a sideboard that hadn’t been apparent when Shaine first entered the room. Above the sideboard was some kind of bronze relic adhered to the wall. It looked like an axe. No, maybe part of a bell.
Heike took one of the three red earthenware cups and poured spearmint tea for her boss. The scent filled the room, restoring Shaine’s sense of equilibrium. She poured Shaine black tea, and arranged little pots of milk and sugar in front of him with a tiny teaspoon resting beside them on a red lacquered tray. She repeated the process with Jesse.
Shaine looked up and thanked her, realizing in the growing light of the room that she hadn’t had plastic surgery as he first suspected. The puffiness around her eyes had been from crying. Heike still looked upset and her mouth trembled.
She’s afraid of de Pamana. Shaine was certain of it. Why?
Heike smiled at Shaine and left the room by the door she’d just entered.
De Pamana glanced over at her, then flicked his gaze back to Shaine. How unsettling. It was as though he can read my thoughts. Shaine glanced back at the large bronze piece on the wall.
Aware of de Pamana’s scrutiny, he asked, “What is that?”
“It’s a yue.” When Shaine stared at him, de Pamana elaborated. “It was an ancient weapon in China. Highly prized. It’s an axe, actually, decorated with the image of aloong, which was a magical animal in ancient China.
“I see a tiger, I think,” Shaine said before he could stop himself.
“Very good. Both animals are in it. The tiger represents lofty dignity, and combined with the loong means solemnity and mystery.”
Just like you. Solemn and mysterious.
“I don’t see a tiger. I think it’s creepy,” Dullane said as he stirred his coffee. In his big paw the teaspoon looked like a child’s toy, and Shaine felt a sudden soft spot for his partner, knowing that he regularly had tea parties with his four-year old daughter, Queenie, who was fond of serving air and occasionally water to her favorite guest.
“That isn’t surprising,” de Pamana said. “This was a weapon used only by military commanders. It was both a ritual axe and one used consistently in torture.”
Shaine’s blood froze. He blinked. He glanced at Jesse, who stared at the man over the rim of his coffee cup.
“You keep torture tools in your office for kicks?” Dullane might have his little quirks but Shaine liked the way the guy always asked the questions everyone else wanted to know but was afraid to ask.
“I have a military background and a discipline in many forms of combat.” De Pamana sipped his tea then smiled. “I’m in the security business. Weapons and unusual tools fascinate me.”
“You’re interested in combat,” Shaine said.
De Pamana held his gaze. “I’m interested in…conquest.”
For some reason, Shaine’s belly did a back flip. He blinked a couple of times. He didn’t know how to react, and wondered if he was overreacting when he thought he sensed a sexual tone to the man’s response.
Is he gay?
Why do I care?
Oh, heck, I’m being stupid…
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A. J. Llewellyn lives in California, but dreams of living in Hawaii. Frequent trips to all the islands, bags of Kona coffee in his fridge and a healthy collection of Hawaiian records keep this writer refueled. A. J. loves male/male erotica, has a passion for all animals—especially the dog, the cat and the turtle. A. J. believes that love is a song best sung out loud.