Chasing payne, p.4
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       Chasing Payne, p.4

           Chantel Seabrook
 
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  Turner grabbed the fuchsia-haired woman by her arm and forced her to sit in an empty chair, his gun still trained on her. “You want me to wipe them?”

  The woman's kohl-lined eyes went wide and she whimpered.

  Lora knew that Turner only meant to wipe their memories, a psychic ability that he and a few other agents possessed, but by the woman's expression, she clearly thought he meant to kill her.

  “Just do as you're told and no one will get hurt,” Lora said, giving the woman a sympathetic smile.

  Chase growled low in his throat and narrowed his eyes at her. “We're here to arrest them, not make friends.”

  Fuchsia girl had the audacity to look amused.

  “Boss, you need to take a look at this.” Austin nodded towards a whiteboard covered with symbols that Lora couldn't decipher. “It's a DNA sequence, or pieces of one.”

  Austin pulled the board into view.

  H. SAP. METAMORPH GENETIC ANOMALIES was written in red ink along the right lower quadrant of the board.

  The unlikely trio were studying Shifter genetics. The Therian Council would crucify them.

  “Fuck. I knew it,” Turner growled. “Look at this shit. It's got Boyd's stench all over it.”

  “Enough, Turner. Not. Here.” A grimace tightened Chase's features, and he scratched the back of his neck, still staring at the whiteboard. “Take them into custody. We'll interrogate them later. McCaffrey, call in the squad. Tell them they're clear to send in the investigation unit. I want the building wiped down, everything needs to be confiscated.”

  A faint banging on the far side of the room caught Lora's attention. The hum of the electrical devices almost clouded out the noise, but as she got closer, a clear rattling sound came from the metal, square-shaped levered door in the wall.

  Two large buttons, one red and one black, were located just above it. There was a faint smell of something decomposing. Lora squatted down and ran her fingers along the almost seamless joints.

  “Don't touch that.” Fuchsia girl's voice was faint.

  Lora frowned at the panic in the woman's voice. What were they hiding behind the metal door? She reached up and pressed both buttons at once.

  The screech of metal grinding against metal drowned out the fuchsia girl's scream. “No!”

  The metal door slid up, and a few feet behind it, metal bars slowly began to retract.

  The stench of raw meat hit her as the trap door slid open. Lora swallowed bile, as she realized too late what the scent came from.

  A low, deep snarl emitted from the hole, and a pair of yellow eyes blinked at her in the darkness.

  She inhaled a sharp gasp of air and felt her heart stop.

  “Son of a bitch!” Chase's voice roared in her ear.

  Adrenaline surged through her. She jumped to her feet, jamming her palm against the buttons that had opened the trap doors.

  The first door began to descend, but not fast enough.

  Lora stumbled backwards, and the animal bounded through the small hole, its teeth bared, eyes focused directly on her.

  She raised her gun and pointed it at the coyote, but her fingers trembled and her shot went wide.

  The coyote leapt at her. She closed her eyes, covered her face with her arm, and waited for the inevitable attack.

  Chapter 5

  Chase sensed the animal the moment the trap door began to open.

  Fuck. What had the woman done now?

  A blur of fur and fangs sprang from the small hole. Lora's gun fired, missing its target by a few inches. Chase watched in horror from across the room. Lora froze, eyes closed, as the feral coyote pounced.

  Turner and Austin moved quickly, but neither were in position for a clear shot.

  Lora flew backwards, arms covering her face. A shriek of pain echoed across the room. The coyote's jaws clamped down on Lora's forearm, but she didn't shift. Why the hell didn't she fucking shift?

  The half-starved coyote was no match for her powerful lioness, but it would tear her human form to shreds.

  The scent of her blood filled his nostrils and the beast inside him went savage.

  Heart pounding like a jackhammer, he shifted. Bones, muscles, and sinew stretched and cracked. Pain ripped through him as his body broke and reformed. He shuddered and expanded. His clothes tore from his body as easily as tissue paper. The transformation was rapid, barely discernable to the human eye, but every millisecond that passed seemed like a fucking eternity.

  Chase launched himself forward. His powerful jaws sunk deep into the coyote's throat. It released Lora's arm with a yelp and Chase flung it halfway across the room.

  The click and whistle of Turner's stun gun broke through the air and the coyote crumpled in heap of matted fur. Chase circled it, struggling against the desire to finish the animal off.

  Let it go, brother. Turner's thoughts pushed into his mind.

  Shaking his mane, Chase let out a deep, rumbling roar and concentrated on getting his lion under control. The beast fought against his attempt to shift back into his human form, causing both man and lion to growl in agony. Never in his life had his dual natures been so at odds with one another.

  Damn the animal. And damn the woman. He was losing control. When the lion finally submitted, he stood and took a deep, agitated breath.

  “Get them out of here.” Chase motioned to the geek squad who sat staring open-mouthed and trembling.

  Turner raised his eyebrows. “But—”

  “Now,” Chase yelled.

  Turner shrugged and shook his head, before spinning on his heels and ordering the group outside.

  The fuchsia-haired woman let out a small whimper as she was escorted past him.

  Austin knelt beside Lora. Rolling up her sleeve, he inspected the small puncture wounds. “You're going to need a couple of stitches.”

  Gritting his teeth, Chase took two long strides and hovered over her. “What the hell were you thinking, freezing like that?”

  Lora looked up. Her pale face went a dark shade of crimson and her eyes widened. A sharp intake of breath escaped her lips as her gaze skimmed down his body and fixated on the region between his legs.

  He glanced down at what she was staring at and cursed. Shit. His clothes lay in a shredded pile across the room.

  He was stark—fucking—naked and the heat of her gaze went straight to his groin.

  * * *

  Lora knew her mouth hung open like an idiot, but god help her she couldn't stop staring. She knew he had a good body, but never in her life had she imagined a man could be that hot. Her entire body shuddered with longing.

  She lifted her gaze and met Chase's savage expression.

  Chase let out a harsh breath that sounded more like a growl and turned, giving her a view of his perfectly sculpted backside. Bloody hell, life wasn't fair. He left the room and Lora could hear him opening and slamming doors as he made his way down the hallway.

  “Can you stand?” Austin's voice pulled her out of her dazed sexual coma. His dark eyes held a hint of mirth and his mouth curved up at one side.

  Could she humiliate herself anymore?

  “Yeah.” She allowed him to help her up. With her attention diverted, the pain in her arm returned and she winced at the movement.

  “You need to get that looked at,” Austin said, his dark eyes filled with concern.

  The blood was already clotting. The skin around the puncture wounds had turned an ugly shade of blue, but it was nothing that a little antiseptic and time wouldn't heal. “I'll take care of it.”

  Chase returned a few minutes later dressed in a pair of extremely snug jogging pants, and a t-shirt that looked three sizes too small.

  Austin quirked an eyebrow and Chase narrowed his gaze towards him. “Don't say a word.”

  Even in the computer kid's clothes, Chase made her stomach do somersaults, and now that she knew exactly what was under the thin fabric, her desire only intensified.

  He turned his gaze on her, and the look in his e
yes told her that she was in deep shit.

  “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have touched the buttons—”

  Chase raised his index finger to stop her and then turned his fierce gaze on Austin. “Leave us.” When the man didn't move, Chase bellowed, “Now!”

  Without flinching, Austin glanced at her with a sympathetic look before turning and walking out of the room.

  “If you'll just let me explain—”

  “Explain? What could you possibly say that would justify nearly getting yourself killed? Let's put aside the fact that it was your own stupidity that released the animal, and that your shot was off by a mile. You froze. The coyote lunged for you and you just stood there. Why?”

  Lora shook her head. She couldn't tell him the truth. If the agency found out her secret, she would lose more than her job. She'd lose all credibility within the Therian community, not to mention her family. A shudder went through her at the thought of her mother, her brothers, finding out what she'd done.

  “If you hadn't made me wear this constricting outfit I would have,” she lied, praying that he wouldn't catch the unconscious inflection in her voice. “I knew one of you would shoot it.”

  “That's a lie.” His blue eyes hardened and she flinched.

  She shook her head desperately, trying to breathe past the tightness in her chest. He couldn't know. Everything she had worked so hard for over the past year would be taken from her with one single admission.

  He snarled furiously as he caught hold of her uninjured arm, and jerked her so that she would look up at him. “One more chance Agent Oliver. The coyote had its teeth imbedded in your flesh. One more second and it could have been your throat. Why didn't you shift?”

  “Because I can't,” she cried out painfully. Her hand flew to her mouth the moment the words left her lips.

  He released her abruptly. She saw the surprise and confusion in his expression. “What do you mean you can't?”

  She closed her eyes and ran her hands over her face. “I can't shift. I severed the connection years ago.”

  For a long moment, Chase said nothing. Tension radiated off him and shimmered in the air around them.

  “That's not possible.” His voice was rough and filled with doubt.

  “It is possible.” She took a step backwards, all too aware that she had linked her fingers together nervously. “I haven't shifted in five years.”

  “But I've sensed your animal. Even now I can feel it, pacing to be released.” Chase shook his head slowly before running his fingers through his hair. “You're controlling it, keeping it chained, imprisoned.”

  “No. You're wrong.” She shook her head and blinked rapidly to keep the tears back. She wasn't controlling anything. That had been her problem. She had no control, and that's why she had to cut the tie between woman and animal.

  “Why?” he snapped, his jaw tightening as he took a step towards her. “Why would you do this to yourself?”

  You! She wanted to scream. I did it because of you!

  She had lost control of her animal the night of her prom, and the result was almost fatal. She'd promised herself that it would never happen again. That she would never allow her animal free. And she hadn't.

  She shrugged and looked down at her injured arm cradled against her chest. She almost answered, but the words locked in her throat.

  “What were you thinking coming into a situation like this?” he questioned, his tone harsh. The hard chiseled lines of his features appeared more savage than normal, and Lora inwardly shrank backwards as he took another step towards her. “You could have been killed, or put one of the agents at risk.”

  He was right, but she hadn't thought she would need to shift. Especially not on her assignment. Even in basic training, they had been told to shift only when absolutely necessary, and only if there were no humans around to expose them.

  Her breath hitched as self-loathing and regret slammed through her system. “I'm sorry.”

  “Look at me,” Chase demanded.

  She felt him watching her, but she couldn't bring herself to look up and see the disappointment in his eyes. A sickening feeling of self-disgust overtook her.

  “Lora.” A low growl rumbled in his chest. He placed his hand gently on her shoulder. “Look at me.”

  Slowly, she looked up. She held his gaze, knowing he could read the miserable acceptance rising inside her. There was no doubting what would happen next. Her gaze blurred from the tears that filled her eyes and she steeled herself for one final rejection.

  “An animal can only be caged for so long.” He dropped his hand, turned and stopped. Looking over his shoulder, his brows drew down in a deep frown. “And Agent Oliver…” Chase sighed heavily. “You're fired.”

  With that, he turned and walked out the door, leaving her with nothing but a dark empty hole where her dreams and hopes had once been.

  Chapter 6

  Every nerve in Lora's body vibrated with tension as she left the crumpled old building. With her head downcast, she walked across the gravel parking lot, past Chase who was talking with a group of agents, towards the silver Escalade she had arrived in.

  Her fingers trembled as she removed the weapons and heavy belt that hung around her waist. One by one, she placed them on the hood of the vehicle. Her arm pulsed and throbbed, but it was nothing compared to the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

  “Want to talk about it?” Austin leaned against the hood, a few inches from her, arms crossed over his chest.

  Not meeting his gaze, she pressed her lips together and shook her head.

  The clasp on the upper left shoulder of her vest wouldn't budge and she cursed. She needed to get out of the suffocating suit before she began hyperventilating.

  “Here, let me help.” Austin reached for the clasp and Lora dropped her arms to her side, defeated. With agile fingers, he removed the armor and placed it in the pile. He looked pointedly at her arm. “There's a first aid kit in the car. I can patch that up for you.”

  She shook her head. The sting of tears burned her eyes. No, no, no. She wouldn't cry. She just wanted to escape, to find somewhere to hide. Somewhere far away from Chase Payne.

  “I—I need to get out of here.”

  With a gentleness that only made her misery worse, Austin took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Come on. I'll take you home.”

  “You still have work to do Agent McCaffrey,” Chase said, walking towards them. Lora flinched at the heavy tone of irate disproval in his voice. “I'll take Miss Oliver home.”

  Miss—not agent.

  He was such an asshole. If they weren't in the middle of nowhere, with no other way home, she would have flipped him off and walked away. But that wasn't an option, and all she wanted was to get back to her apartment, curl up and cry herself to sleep.

  Austin scratched his head and looked as if he were debating whether to argue. He glanced at Chase, then back at her. After a moment of hesitation, he gave her a half smile and squeezed her hand before letting go. “I'll call you later. You still owe me an Italian dinner.”

  A low growl resonated from Chase's chest, and to her shock, Austin duplicated it before turning and walking away.

  “Get in the vehicle.”

  The warning in his voice was firm and dominant. Every part of her wanted to shriek—No! But what other choice did she have?

  “Chase.” The blonde's sultry voice broke the tension. With the air of a woman confident with her sexuality, she sauntered over to them. “Johnson wanted me to show you this before you left.”

  Chase took the tablet she handed him and scrolled through a series of pictures. “Bloody hell.”

  “Looks like we've got a mole somewhere in the agency. Someone with access to high security data. They must have been tipped off a few hours prior to our arrival. That's when they started deleting files.”

  Lora shuffled uncomfortably.

  Chase pinched the bridge of his nose and handed her the device. “Tell Johnson to keep this
information private for now. I'll be back in the office later this afternoon. Call Jacob Oliver and set up a meeting.” He glanced at Lora briefly and her stomach dropped. “I have a few things I need to discuss with him.”

  The blonde raked Lora with a sympathetic glance that made her toes curl. No way in hell was that woman allowed to feel sorry for her.

  Lora crossed her arms and glared at the blonde, a muted growl vibrating within her chest.

  The woman started to leave, but not before placing a manicured hand on Chase's shoulder and murmuring loud enough for Lora to hear, “Are we still good for Saturday night?”

  Lora officially hated the woman.

  She didn't wait for Chase's response. What did it matter anyways? He could do whatever and whomever he wanted. She was done. Done with him. Done with the agency. Done with everything she had once wanted so desperately.

  Grabbing her things off the hood, she threw them in the back seat and got in the car. Her chest ached like there was a vise grip on her heart.

  A few seconds later, Chase joined her. Neither spoke during the drive back, and every minute that passed only added fuel to her growing anger. Her brain knew she had no reason to be angry with him, but she had never been one to listen to logic. Her emotions blamed him, cursed him, and made her want to scream at the top of her lungs—I hate you, Chase Payne!

  He parked the Escalade along the curb outside of her apartment. Needing to get as far away from him as possible, she slammed the door and ran.

  “Lora!”

  She was fast, but he was faster. He was behind her, breath heavy, as she turned the keys and entered her apartment. He caught the door before it slammed in his face.

  “Leave me alone.”

  Pushing past her, he ignored her protests and stomped through her apartment like he owned the place, walking straight to the bathroom. He emerged a few moments later with a bottle of peroxide and gauze.

  “Sit,” he ordered, moving into the small living room and placing the bottle and gauze on the coffee table.

  “You're not my boss anymore. You don't get to tell me what to do. Or did you already forget that you fired me?”

 
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