Predator's Refuge

By: Rosanna Leo

“Marci is fine.”

“Is Marci fine?” he teased through a mirthless face.

Hell, no. She’d never met a man like him before, and had never met a tiger shifter, period. To say nothing of the fact he was making her lynx misbehave in a way it never had. Damned if she was going to show it. Ryland put her in charge, and by all that was holy, she was not going to let this man under her skin. Her very hot skin. “She’s quite fine, thank you very much.”

She took up a spot in the corner of the room, away from him, and brushed her finger along the dust-free dresser surface. Struggling for something to say, she clung to what mattered most to her: the resort and how it was run. “So as a staff member, you have unlimited access to the employee buffet and lounge. We also have a staff pool, although it’s closed for the season, and a weight room. Mr. Snow is very generous with his employees and likes to make sure we have whatever we need.” She arched a brow at him. “We expect and reward employee loyalty. Mr. Snow takes great care to make sure he doesn’t hire people who will disappear after three months. I hope you plan to stay, or will your noble duties take you away?”

“My plan is to stay. There are no downtrodden nations I wish to conquer at this time.” His face held its severe contours, but his celadon eyes almost danced for her.

Was that a twinkle she glimpsed? She must be seeing things. This was not a man who twinkled.

“Funny,” she remarked without humor. She reached a discreet hand toward her collar and loosened it. “I’ll take you to payroll to get set up in our system and need to introduce you around. I assume you’d like some time to relax and freshen up first? You must be jet-lagged.”

He kicked his bags toward the bed and walked over, coming to within uncomfortable inches of her. The small space between them sizzled with an energy she didn’t understand and almost feared. “I am fresh, Ms. Lennox, and have no wish to inconvenience my lady boss. Lead on.”

His blasé tone made it sound as if he were in charge. He wasn’t, dammit. Marci raised herself to her full height, grateful her pumps added a couple of inches to her frame. “I will lead on, thank you. But wouldn’t you like a nap … or something?”

His pouty upper lip curled with amusement. “What sort of or somethings do you have on offer?” The moment the words escaped his lips, Gaspar squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, as if he hadn’t meant to say them. As if he regretted them.

He should regret them. His manner of speaking was inappropriate and unprofessional. Yes, it was also making her heart palpitate, but that was neither here nor there. She looked away from him, forcing down the huge lump in her throat and rolling her shoulders to alleviate the knot at the top of her spine. Swallowing madly, suddenly thirsty enough to drink the contents of an oasis, Marci turned away and led him to payroll.

Let them deal with him for a while.

His somber figure followed her like gathering clouds, and her lynx turned inside her, locked on his every move.

* * * *

Marci left Anton in the payroll office, where no fewer than three female staff members were vying for his attentions, and stood outside. She glared at him through the glass door, turning quickly when he glanced at her. Winded and raw for some bizarre reason, as if she’d swum across Lake Gemini’s cold expanse on a late autumn morning, she leaned on a nearby accent table for support. Though she didn’t want to, she couldn’t help staring. At the way he held the pen. At the way his long fingers moved. At the way he grinned and nodded at the smitten payroll clerks.

His every motion intrigued her lynx to no end. His every movement seemed programmed to distract the animal. He could have blown his nose into a tissue and the stupid beast would have been fascinated by the exact volume and velocity of his blow.

“Sheesh,” she muttered.

“What’s up?”

She looked up and noticed her friend Charlotte Moffatt walking over. She offered her pal a weak smile. “Nothing.”

Charlotte, cute in her chambermaid uniform, took one look through the payroll door and her silver-gray eyes grew to twice their size. “Holy shit! Is that him? The new guy?”

Marci swallowed past the boulder in her throat and pulled herself to her full height. “Yup.”

“Jesus-Fuck-Me-Murphy,” Charlotte whispered. “That can’t be one man. Surely someone stapled two men together to make him. He’s fucking enormous.”

“Language,” she warned on a soft laugh.

Her pal waved off the comment. “Don’t worry. When the customers are around, I’m all charm and grace. But right now, I really need to do some major cussing.”

Marci listened, grimacing, as her friend turned the air blue. An educated woman, Charlotte worked as a maid while completing her master’s in religious studies, but nothing in her vocabulary resembled anything remotely religious. She could swear like a drunken trucker with a grudge against humanity.

“Damn, Marce,” she said. “How are you not getting all gooey in front of that man? You know, in your condition?”