MIRANDA'S MATE by Ann Gimpel
The Company Store Series Book One
As an agent for an international security firm, Miranda has her hands full. Between secretly lusting after her boss, Garen, and making sure the dirty little secret about her double life as a wolf shifter remains hidden, she’s still a virgin at nearly thirty.
Sent to eliminate the head of a human trafficking organization in Amsterdam, she barely escapes with her life. Injured, frightened, and under attack the second her private jet lands in the U.S., she doesn’t know where to turn.
Garen’s been watching Miranda just as surreptitiously as she’s been eying him. Unfortunately, the fact that she works for him is a showstopper. Plus, Garen has a few secrets of his own that have kept him single. He’s frantic once he discovers his oldest friend is besotted with Miranda too. When she insists on heading up a covert operation, he’s worried sick but can’t come up with a plausible reason to stop her.
Miranda’s life is on the line. Will Garen risk exposure to save her?
BUY THE eBOOK *** READ THE EXCERPT
The Gulfstream G280 shuddered as it banked hard right. Miranda Miller pushed one of the window blinds aside; it was black as pitch outside the aircraft. She felt like warmed-over crap. Her mouth tasted sour; her eyes were hot and gritty. She rubbed them and tallied how long it had been since she’d slept. At least two days. She reached for a Styrofoam cup in its no-spill metal holder, sloshed cold coffee around her mouth, and swallowed.
Her headset hummed. “Wakey, wakey, fraulein,” a heavily accented German voice rumbled. “We land at JFK as soon as the tower clears us.”
“What?” Fear sliced through her fatigue. “I told you we needed a smaller airport.”
“Sorry, fraulein. This one was closest. We are below recommended minimums on fuel.”
She considered asking the pilot why he hadn’t planned better but decided not to antagonize him. It was bad enough they were flying without a copilot—probably against FAA regulations. She had a dummied-up commercial pilot’s license tucked in her wallet under one of her many assumed names. Hopefully it matched the one on her phony passport. She hadn’t had time to check. If it came down to it, she’d been instructed to tell the tower she’d copiloted the flight.
“I need you to move into the cockpit, fraulein.”
“Alrighty. Give me a minute.”
“You do not have much more than that. I do not wish further difficulties with the U.S. authorities.”
Miranda wondered just what other problems the pilot might be referring to. She almost asked him, and then decided she didn’t really care. Her international security company engaged professionals. Most of them came from either the military or law enforcement and had checkered pasts. She unbuckled her seat belt and stumbled to her feet. Her crumpled, black pantsuit stank, but maybe only to her lycan senses. She hoped humans wouldn’t be able to smell stale blood and sweat. Her body ached, especially her ribs where her target had slammed a lead pipe into her. She fingered her side and wondered if anything was broken. Not much you could do for ribs. They had to mend on their own.
A few steps took her to the tiny head in the rear of the aircraft. She splashed cold water on her face and winced when she took a good look at her scraped knuckles. Her target in Amsterdam—head of a worldwide human trafficking organization—had been much harder to eliminate than she’d expected. She’d needed her supernatural speed and strength—and her wolf form. One more face-dunking in cold water and she grabbed a towel to dry herself.
“Now, fraulein.” The jet shuddered again as its landing gear clicked into place.
The pilot sounded so panicked she rushed down the aisle and pulled open the cockpit door. He grabbed her arm and nearly threw her into the empty seat. “Watch it!” she snapped; her upper lip pulled into a snarl. Claws pressed against the ends of her fingertips. Miranda struggled for control. Her wolf wanted to kill the human who’d manhandled her.
“Sorry.” The pilot’s voice was mild. She recognized compulsion beneath his words and wondered just what he was. “I do not wish to draw anyone’s attention,” he went on smoothly. “The rules regarding business-class jets are in constant flux.” He glanced at her with gray eyes that didn’t miss much. “Are you hurt?”
She nodded. “My, um, assignment ran into unexpected snags.”
“Will you require medical attention before you proceed to the West Coast?”
She snorted. What a subtle way of asking if she’d been shot or stabbed. Lars Kinsvogel—or whatever his name really was—had obviously dealt with people like her before. Something he said caught her attention. “Won’t you be my pilot?”
He shook his head. “Someone fresh will relieve me.”
“Will I be able to stay aboard?”
He shot her an odd look. “Of course not. You must go through customs.”
She rolled her eyes. Her lips pressed into a thin line. “That’s why I wanted to land somewhere inland.”
His gray eyes narrowed. “All flights from foreign destinations are subject to customs, no matter what the airport. Is this your first international assignment?”
Heat rose to her face. “No.” She was damned if she’d say anything else. She didn’t know him from Adam.
The radio crackled. The pilot responded in pilotese and banked the plane. “Flights from Europe are cleared to land at certain airports. With the fuel we have left, we could have landed in Philadelphia or Newark, but I have a feeling those two destinations would not meet your needs, either. What are you afraid of?”
Miranda wasn’t certain what she could tell him. Company policy was clear. Talk to no one. “Never mind.”
She thought about Garen, her boss and chairman for The Company. She’d been half in love with his razor-sharp mind, lithe build, salt-and-pepper hair, and sky-blue eyes for years, but he didn’t see her as anything but a junior-grade agent. Rumor had it he scarcely acknowledged employees until they’d become full-fledged operatives. If her fellows were any indication, she had a way to go. At least a few more assignments. And then there was the problem of her being a lycan. She sighed; fantasies of Garen went up in smoke like they always did. It was nice to dream, but Miranda steered clear of men. Between her wolf side and her somewhat unorthodox career, intimate relationships carried too much risk of discovery. She relied on her fingers, a vibrator, and the occasional one-night stand to take the edge off her needs.
The jet banked yet again and dropped lower. Its wheels made contact, and the pilot hit the brakes. Because she wasn’t belted in, Miranda nearly plunged into the instrument cluster. Lars made an aggravated clucking sound, but he didn’t say anything. They taxied off the runway.
“Since I have to get off, I need to get my things together.”
“Wait until the aircraft comes to a complete stop, fraulein.”
He sounded so much like a bot, she stifled a laugh. The plane moved smoothly into an enclosed hangar. Once it rolled to a halt, she pushed out of her seat, returned to the passenger compartment, and unhooked her small duffel from the wall. Lars’ breath hissed against her ear. “Where are your weapons?”
“On me and in my bag.”
“Put everything in your bag. Clips separate.”
“I’m not that stupid.” She pulled a 9mm semiautomatic from its shoulder holster and punched the button to discharge its clip. She drew back the slide, extracted the chambered bullet, and stuffed it into the clip. Next came a snub-nosed .38 revolver and two knives. She spun the chamber to make certain all the bullets were out and then placed everything in locked gun cases in her carry-on.
Lars still stood practically on top of her. She met his gaze, noticing they were about the same height, which meant he was five feet eleven. “Yes?” She quirked a tired brow.
“Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?” His hands settled on her shoulders. She smelled his arousal and knew he had a hard-on without even looking.
“Christ! Not now.” She spun from beneath his grip. “Let’s just get through customs and allow whoever’s knocking on the cabin door to search the plane.”
“We will have some downtime in the terminal. At least an hour.” He sounded hopeful.
Miranda looked at him. Really looked at him. Lars was attractive in a Teutonic sort of way with ice-blond hair and gray eyes. His trim body suggested he worked out. Interest flickered but then died. She shook her head. “I haven’t slept for forty-eight hours. I’m dead on my feet.”
“Why did you not sleep during the flight? The air was smooth.”
Good question. She’d wondered the same thing. “I did, just not much. Too keyed up.”
He shouted something in German to whoever was pounding on the cabin door and took her arm. “I will watch over you until you are safely back in the plane.”
She opened her mouth to tell him it wasn’t necessary, but something in his face stopped her. In that moment, she understood he was a trained operative just like her. His role this time around happened to be pilot, but she was certain he’d stood in her shoes before. “Which branch of the military trained you?”
He shook his head and let go of her arm. “It does not matter. Follow me, fraulein.”
She shouldered her duffel and walked to the rear cabin door. Lars had just sprung the locks. He spoke soothingly in German to an obviously agitated customs officer. The agent’s beady, black eyes settled on her. “Do you speak English?”
“Yes. Is there a problem, sir? It’s been a long flight, and both of us are tired. It took me a while to get my bag together.”
The agent, nostrils flared, looked intently at her and then waved them down the jet’s steps. “Customs is the last door at the north end of the hangar,” he barked. “Don’t even think of running. This hangar is locked and fully alarmed.”
Lars placed a hand beneath her elbow and guided her across a concrete floor. “It is best if we do not deviate from a straight line,” he muttered.
“Holy crap,” she said. “Why are they so uptight?”
He shrugged. “As you Americans say, it goes with the territory.” He grinned, displaying very white, very even teeth. “Everything we do and say between here and the customs area is filmed and recorded.”
* * * *
Despite interested glances and furrowed foreheads, her munitions-heavy duffle had passed inspection since her fake identification pegged her as an undercover agent for the Chicago Police Department. Miranda breathed a sigh of relief once they’d scanned her passport and released her. Even though Garen told his operatives each of their alternate credentials were fully covered at all ends, she’d never exactly believed Jayne Powers existed on the Chicago PD payroll.
They settled in a private lounge specifically for business-class jet crews and their passengers. At least an hour passed. Lars handed her a cup of coffee. He pulled a silver flask from an inner jacket pocket and waved it at her. Miranda shrugged. “Sure. I’ve never made a habit of drinking in the morning, but what the hell. What time is it, anyway?”
“Around five-thirty. It will be light soon.”
She sipped the coffee, delighted to find he’d poured Irish whiskey into it. The liquor burned a path to her empty stomach. “Do I have time to grab some food?”
He frowned. “Probably. I do not understand why the relief pilot has not met us.” He pulled a cell phone from his jacket and powered it on.
Miranda snapped upright from her slump against soft cushions. Deviations almost always meant trouble. She took one more slug of coffee and set her cup down. As tired as she was, she couldn’t risk any more whiskey—not until she found out if something was truly amiss. Lars punched in numbers, waited a few moments, and disconnected. He stood and held a hand to her. “We must go, fraulein.” She opened her mouth to frame a question, but he shook his head. “We have stayed here too long, I fear.”
She cocked her head at a restroom door near the rear of the private lounge. He nodded, obviously understanding her intent. If trouble was afoot, she needed to be armed. She went inside, ducked into a stall, and dug what she needed from her bag. The ammo clip slid into her 9mm with a satisfying thunk. She checked in a mirror to make certain her underarm holster was hidden. Her reflection shocked her. Gray circles etched beneath bloodshot blue eyes. Her dark hair hung in greasy strands. She wound it into a queue and shoved it behind her shoulders.
Lars met her right outside the ladies’ room. Miranda’s practiced eyes noted the swell of a gun beneath his woolen jacket. She blinked hard to clear her head. Were they going to have a full-on shootout in the middle of JFK Airport? He shook his head almost imperceptibly, gripped her elbow, and propelled her into the corridor. At least this wing of the airport wasn’t busy at this time of day. Only a few others strode meaningfully toward destinations.
He jerked his head sideways. A half-open door sat about fifty yards away. He bent so his mouth was right against her ear and whispered as they walked. “You will take the stairs all the way to the bottom. There is a door there. It opens into the main terminal. I will meet you if I can. If I do not, take a taxi. Put some miles between yourself and this airport.” He made a sound midway between a snort and a grunt. “Hell, if you can get the cabbie to drive you to the next state, do it.”
She wanted to ask about perhaps flying back to Seattle, but there wasn’t time. He gave her a push, and the door snicked shut behind her. She heard it lock and understood he must have jimmied it somehow. She padded down a spiral metal staircase, grateful for her flat-soled, practical boots. Lights flashed whenever she passed a landing. She worried about what to do if the door at the bottom was locked. She wasn’t bad at picking locks, but she didn’t have her pick set with her. She’d pretty much stopped carting it around because nearly every lock she’d run into in the last few years was electronic. Don’t borrow trouble. I’ll find out soon enough.
Adrenaline twisted her stomach into a sour knot. Her wolf wanted out. It took precious energy to keep it contained. The stairs ended, and she stared at a metal door. The same blinking light flashed overhead. Wary of alarms, she twisted the handle. It didn’t budge. Shit! She blew out a tense breath. Lars had managed to unlock the top one, so it couldn’t be impossible.
She bent to examine the lock. The easiest thing would be to screw the silencer onto her gun and blow it to bits. Yeah, right. Every cop in the joint will come on a dead run. The lock had a card hole, which meant it was electronic. Maybe her lycan magic could tease it into compliance. She hummed a note, and then another. Something whirred at the edges of her sensitive lycan hearing. The lock didn’t give, not quite, but hope slammed into her. This could work if she was patient.
Miranda let a hand hover over the mechanism and felt its resonance. She tried a couple of three-note combinations. Her fourth try worked. She tamped down elation as the door popped open. She hurried through and tried to look casual as she tugged it closed behind her. Anxious to put as much distance as she could between her and the door before some sort of siren sounded, she ran headlong into someone and muttered apologies before she realized it was Lars.
He pointed toward a glass revolving door. She stumbled after him. Questions bubbled around her tired brain, but she knew better than to talk on the cab ride. They got out in a neighborhood of stately old brownstones. Lars motioned her up several flights of steps and into an apartment furnished in Motel Six modern. He locked a series of deadbolts and turned to face her.
“Are we safe here?”
He nodded. “As safe as anywhere, fraulein, until I can get us out of the city tomorrow. I have made arrangements for a plane in Boston. We will fly to Seattle from there. Take the bedroom at the end of the hall. There is another bedroom, but I will sleep on the couch.” She raised a questioning eyebrow. He smirked. “It is closer to the door in case we have…unexpected company.”
Miranda was almost certain she knew the answer to her next question, but she asked anyway. “What happened to the other pilot?”
Lars’ lips curved into a sneer. “Dead. The bastard who killed him will be once I get my hands on him.”
Miranda walked down the hall and into the bedroom. She shut the door behind her, grateful Lars hadn’t asked who she’d taken care of in Amsterdam. Human trafficking was global, but such an instantaneous response to losing one of their own chilled her. From long habit, she checked the adjoining bath and closet. A shower would be welcome, but it could wait. She pitched face down on the bed and was asleep in seconds.
LIKED THE EXCERPT?? CLICK HERE TO BUY THE eBOOK