Rule breaker, p.10
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       Rule Breaker, p.10
 

         Part #20 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  can protect his mate is to never mate her to begin with.”

  Dane sensed the surprise emanating from the warrior who believed that he knew all the secrets while hiding his own.

  Children, he thought, restraining himself from shaking his head. Both of them.

  They had no secrets at all where he was concerned, but letting them believe they did was a bit of fun now and then.

  Even as amusement gathered inside him, so did a sense of knowledge where Rule Breaker was concerned.

  The mating was there. Gypsy Rum McQuade was definitely his mate, but the animal, the animal senses rather, were far smarter than the Breed, evidently.

  Dane turned to the warrior. “What do you think she’ll do?”

  The warrior crossed his arms over his chest, gazing back at him thoughtfully.

  This man knew Gypsy McQuade better than anyone, even her parents, he guessed.

  “She’ll seek out her friends first,” he finally answered. “Liza, Isabelle, and Jonas’s mate, Rachel. Perhaps even the Coyote females. She knows them quite well and parties with them often. When there are no answers to be found there, only then will she go to Breaker.”

  “He would be the most direct route,” Dane pointed out. “Why not go to him first?”

  “Because he spooked her.” The warrior suddenly grinned. “And he’s the first man who’s managed to do that. He has her so spooked, he just might have her running scared. And, boys”—pure anticipation filled the other man’s voice now—“I’ve never seen Gypsy Rum McQuade run scared from any man or Breed. I’m damned sure looking forward to this one.”

  What the warrior wasn’t thinking of, what he wasn’t remembering, was that Gypsy had remained a virgin all these years to continue working with the Unknown for a reason.

  She was trying to deserve to live.

  She’d never forgiven herself for something that was never her fault to begin with.

  Her brother’s death.

  She wouldn’t give in easily, and if she did—if she did, he hoped Rule had the good sense to give her more to live for than she would believe she needed to die for. Just as he hoped that in Gypsy, Rule could find a mate he deemed worthy of fighting his fears for. Because in this world, in this time, being a Breed wasn’t easy, nor was it much safer than it had been before.

  Now, a Breed had so much more to lose.

  Perhaps his father had been right last year when he’d suggested to Dane that it was time to place both woman and Breed in a position that neither could refuse nor run from. A position that would give that animal skulking inside Rule the best chance possible of claiming his mate before Rule realized what was about. And the best chance for the woman to be mated.

  He almost smiled in satisfaction.

  There were times when he and the old man were in perfect accord. Well, actually, often. They only really seemed to butt heads when the Leo began to suspect that Dane was out having fun when he’d told the Leo he was searching the world for his mate.

  His father, despite his toddler twins who were giving him hell nowadays, was desperate to see his bachelor son settled and giving the Leo grandbabies to bounce on his knee.

  Dane was just as determined to do otherwise.

  He’d loved, deeply, sincerely. Mate or no mate, he’d loved one woman with a strength he’d not known he could possess. He’d loved her enough to give her to her mate and ensure that the dumb bastard deserved her.

  Not that he ever had, but he was as close as any man would get, Dane had decided, aching a bit, as he always did, for her.

  Still, he’d set this in motion nearly a year before, then just waited for his little brother, Jonas, to get a clue and finish the job for him.

  Jonas was rather dependable in that area.

  Thankfully, because Dane didn’t think the title of Mate Matcher would sit as well on his shoulders as it did on his baby brother’s.

  “What now?” Dog asked, glancing at Dane curiously.

  “Now”—Dane smiled around the cigar clenched in his teeth—“now, we dot our i’s and cross our t’s and see what happens.”

  The other two men glared at him in confusion.

  Dane rocked back on his heels and grinned at them.

  “It’s time, gentlemen, to prepare a contract for our assistant director and ensure that he has no option to run.”

  CHAPTER 6

  The air of excitement that filled the offices of McQuade Image Consulting when Gypsy entered it several days later was nothing short of surprising. Normally, Hansel (God forgive her father’s parents for that name) and Greta McQuade were with clients rather than in the offices across the street from the Gingerbread House, the sweets and gift store Greta’s parents had turned over to their granddaughters.

  They’d been busy building the small personal marketing business their first child had begun with them when he was no more than twenty. After Mark’s death, they had thrown themselves into it and ensured that their lives were as busy as possible.

  With Jason overseeing the offices and potential clients, her parents had concentrated on building the images, personal and business, needed to build their reputations.

  Her father was still trim at fifty with very little graying in his hair. He was standing in the small conference room, a smile wreathing his face, his brown eyes sparkling in excitement.

  Her mother was sitting at the long, dark walnut table, her chair turned to the side to face him, her green eyes filled with anticipation as her head turned and they both stared at Gypsy expectantly.

  Despite her green eyes, Greta McQuade’s features were pure Navajo, compliments of her maternal Navajo grandfather and paternal Navajo grandmother.

  She was still slender, her five foot six frame delicate and well toned for her age. She looked ten years younger and sometimes acted twenty years younger.

  Jason sat at the head of the table, grinning as he watched Gypsy, his gaze approving as they both noticed the fact that she had arrived on time for the meeting he’d called and dressed in soft light blue capris, sleeveless shell and white strappy flat sandals rather than jeans and a snug cami as she usually dressed.

  Gypsy closed the door slowly, eyeing the three of them suspiciously as they continued to watch her as though she should be erupting with the same joy.

  She didn’t do joy so well.

  She was inclined to suspicion and watching for whatever was about to disrupt her little world when they looked at her like that.

  “Did we win the lottery or something?” she asked warily.

  “Or something.” Her father clapped his hands together in a gesture of building excitement, obviously ready to burst with whatever excitement filled him.

  “Come in and sit down, Gypsy,” Jason invited, his smile revealing his own excitement at the news they were obviously holding back.

  “Do you want to tell her, Jase?” Greta asked, anticipation gleaming in her eyes as she gripped the armrests on her chair and glanced at her daughter. “I can’t believe we actually did it.”

  Jason chuckled lightly, shaking his head. “I think this is Hans’s news. He’s the one who busted his ass to pull it off.”

  Her father shot Jason a look of gratitude before his hands gripped the edge of the high-backed chair in front of him.

  “We just got that account we bid on last year for image development and social integration with the Bureau of Breed Affairs,” he announced, sending a sharp edge of warning to explode in her stomach as she froze at the news. “They’ve contracted for a year’s time, for their new division director and two business and civil liaisons at the new Window Rock offices of the new Bureau of Breed Affairs and Enforcement. The contracts are individual, for the positions and the Breeds filling them, rather than the Bureau itself. If it works out, though, when they fill the remaining positions for this division next year, we’ll have at least one of those as well.”

  Now there was a mouthful, and her father actually pulled it off without so much as a hesitation or a momen
t of stuttering.

  Gypsy stared back at Hans McQuade, certain she couldn’t have heard him correctly. “Image development and social integration,” she repeated, trying not to swallow with the same fatalistic impression that anyone walking to the gallows would have used. “Really? I thought the bid was for corporate rather than personal development when you were discussing it last year?”

  Corporate was easy. Corporate was what her parents did best.

  Since when had they begun doing personal image development and social integration? Corporate mostly consisted of some well-placed ads and newsworthy stories as well as introductions to other business owners.

  The Breeds were handling that end pretty well in the eastern portion of the United States. In the western states such as Colorado, the Wolf Breeds weren’t quite as socially adept, though, and the Breed community as a whole had lost footing to the Purist militia groups rising up and attacking Breeds or working with the Genetics Council to capture and continue experimentation on them.

  “The Bureau wants to step more into individual integration and image building than the Breeds Society normally focuses on. They believe that here in the West, that will be the best route to take,” her father stated with an air of pride. “I’d actually proposed this first, but the Ruling Cabinet wasn’t so certain of it, so they were considering a more general theme of increasing public support and awareness of the Breeds. I was certain if they went with the idea, we’d never have a chance at the contract with the bigger agencies vying for it. But Jonas Wyatt, along with Vanderale and Lawrence Industries, two of their main supporters, convinced the cabinet that my idea was perfect for the region and, as I’d taken the chance and carried the expenses myself to work it out and propose it to the cabinet, to allow me to have first shot at the personnel for the new Window Rock offices. As a sort of test project, they want to see what we can do.”

  Leaning forward, Jason drew her attention then.

  “We’ll move on to a more national project if this one is the success your father promised the Breeds it will be,” Jason informed her, his expression filled with the same excitement her parents had. “This is going to be big for us, Gypsy. McQuade Image Consulting will finally be the company your parents dreamed of.”

  The company her brother had dreamed of, Gypsy corrected him silently. McQuade Image Consulting had been Mark’s dream, not her parents’.

  Or his best friend’s.

  Her gaze narrowed, her natural inclination to suspicion rising like a tidal wave and capsizing any hint of objectivity.

  Unlike her parents and Jason, she knew a bit more about the Breed psyche and the fact that they never did anything on a more personal scale that wasn’t somehow personally benefiting whichever Breed was maneuvering it.

  Usually Jonas Wyatt.

  “He’s choosing one of his commanders to head the new offices initially, and there will of course be other positions. So far, five lead positions to start with,” her mother continued, and Gypsy could feel that sudden clench of her stomach and the racing of her heart. “Several liaison positions in the Navajo Law Enforcement offices will be created as well. We’ll work with his choice to head up the new Bureau offices and then move on to the liaison positions before we begin working with the others. We’ll draw up a suggested schedule of events and placements to ensure that the commander and two liaisons have the most advantageous chances of creating and building the foundations for the right social and economic ties to begin repairing the rifts created by the purist societies. It’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us.”

  Jason and her parents had enough connections, favors owed, and power backing by her mother’s parents to ensure that the Breeds were indeed invited to the best parties and social events.

  Gypsy turned back to Jason as he relaxed back in his chair at the head of the table. “I thought you didn’t like working with Breeds, Jason,” she reminded him, wondering why he appeared so excited as well.

  Surprise spread across his face. “Gypsy, I don’t have to be in love with the Breed society to do my job.”

  “Gypsy, that was rather unkind,” her mother berated her then, an edge of disappointment filling her voice. “Jason has shown no discrimination to the Breeds, though all of us would do very well to be wary of them. We can still be excited over the fact that they’re finally going to profit us.”

  Yeah. Let’s get excited over that, she thought sarcastically, while you hate them with every fiber of your being.

  Her father was less prone to blame all Breeds than her mother and Jason, but he rarely went against her mother either.

  “I’m sorry, Mom, I was just a little surprised,” she apologized, unwilling to upset her mother. “Was Mr. Wyatt forthcoming enough to inform you of the names of these Breeds he’s chosen for the positions?” she asked then, panic beginning to well in her chest.

  “We’ve actually met the two liaison appointees.” Her father jumped in at that point. “I believe they’re engaged to friends of yours? Isabelle Martinez and Liza Johnson. Malachi Morgan has accepted the position of Bureau liaison to the Navajo Law Enforcement Agency, while Stygian Black has agreed to accept the position of liaison to the Navajo Covert Law Enforcement Division. The commander there, Cullen Maverick, seems very pleased with the choice as well.”

  She nodded slowly. “You said there were three positions,” she reminded them.

  Her mother’s smile dimmed partially as her father got that harried, worried look he always seemed to have whenever she was around.

  “Mr. Wyatt wants to meet us to personally introduce the commander you’ll be working with.” Greta McQuade was watching her daughter anxiously now, though she was trying to maintain her excitement. “He even stated he’d run a full background check on the company as well as on you, and he’s extremely confident of your ability to do exactly what’s needed to ensure that the commander he’s chosen as division director receives the best reception and chances of building a strong community network. We’ll manage the two selected for the liaison positions, though we’ll begin with Malachi Morgan and his fiancée, Isabelle Martinez. And Isabelle is such a wonderful girl. Not that it will hurt that she’s the president’s niece and one of our tribal chief’s granddaughters, not to mention your second cousin.”

  Oh no, that wouldn’t hurt at all, Gypsy agreed as she could feel the ax getting ready to fall.

  Right across the back of her neck.

  Her forced smile was completely lost on her parents and Jason. They were simply too damned happy with this contract to see that their daughter was less than enthused.

  She wasn’t normally a paranoid person, she really wasn’t. But she didn’t believe in coincidence either. And the very fact that this was happening only days after Rule, a rumored potential candidate for the position of division director, had warned her of his intention to check her bed out wasn’t lost on her.

  Her parents’ business was small, their reputation sterling, but their list of clients wasn’t exactly long. Even in Window Rock there were stronger image consulting firms than the McQuades’. Yet Jonas Wyatt had chosen her parents?

  This was such a setup that it practically stank of being maneuvered. Then there was the fact that her parents hadn’t mentioned the Breed commander’s name. Probably because they had come into the store the day before to hear her raging about Commander Rule Breaker and his complete arrogance to Jason and Kandy.

  They knew this was not going to be a smooth, seamless business relationship where she was concerned.

  “So, when exactly are we supposed to be meeting with Mr. Wyatt and his commander?” she asked carefully.

  “We’re meeting this evening at the hotel, in Mr. Wyatt’s suite. He’ll be there, along with his wife, Rachel.” Her mother frowned then. “I hadn’t heard of their ceremony being performed as other Breeds have. Why do you think they didn’t have one?”

  Her mother was the queen of distracting questions, and she could see the desperation in her mother’s gaze to
distract her quickly.

  “Their daughter’s been too ill. They haven’t married yet, though they rarely correct the assumption that a Breed ceremony was performed privately.” Gypsy supplied the answer absently even as she quickly began processing information. “What time this evening? And isn’t this a little short notice, especially considering the fact that I have no idea who I’m working with?”

  “A bit, perhaps.” It was Jason who spoke up as Greta watched Gypsy closely. “But as Director Wyatt has been quite concerned with information on the new offices opening on the reservation without an assigned division director and key staff, it’s perfectly understandable. And his concern is very well placed. As are his plans to announce the new office and its DD at a welcoming ball that the president and chiefs of the Six Tribes are throwing in honor of the Breeds.”

  The look her parents shared, one of such pride and excitement, had her nearly rolling her eyes in disgust.

  “What party?” No one had mentioned a party to her, and that was something she needed plenty of advance notice for. Notice that she knew she just was not going to get.

  Her mother turned back to her, practically glowing again despite Gypsy’s lack of excitement and her knowledge that she had just been distracted by her mother again. “We’ve been invited, as a family, to a welcoming ball being thrown in honor of the Breeds and the agreement between the Nation and the Breed Ruling Cabinet to locate the offices on reservation land. Mr. Wyatt wants to introduce you, as well as his selection as division director, to the press the day after the ball. It’s an incredible opportunity for us as well as the Breeds. This could be what we’ve needed to pull in the larger contracts that other firms have gotten because of their greater visibility.”

  Gypsy nodded slowly, so certain of exactly what was going on that she had to grit her teeth to keep from informing her parents. This was no more than a heavy-handed attempt by Commander Breaker to ensure that she couldn’t continue to ignore him as she had since the night he’d ambushed her outside her apartment.

  There wasn’t an image consulting business in the world that could do more for the Breeds’ image than the Breeds themselves managed, one way or the other, to do for themselves.

  They didn’t need McQuade Image Consulting, they needed damned magicians to hide the machinations of the new division director, Rule Breaker. And while they were at it, it sure as hell wouldn’t hurt to put a leash on the reigning director of the Bureau of Breed Affairs, Jonas Wyatt.

  Wyatt was known as a man who kept his business promises, though; hopefully that meant he wouldn’t destroy her parents’ dreams when his commander didn’t get the bed bunny he was hoping for.

  And wouldn’t her contact within the Unknown be jumping for joy at the prospect of her working so closely with the very enforcer they suspected was investigating them? The one they feared had found evidence to identify one of them?

  “This is just what we needed.” Her father was all but walking on air.

  “This contract will definitely up the office’s prestige.” Jason was all but crowing like a cocky little bantam rooster, she thought in disgust.

  “So, when is this little party?” she asked them, barely able to muster a false smile, let alone any excitement at all.

  “Well, the party is a little short notice.” Her mother was really nervous now, though. “It’s in a week, but I’m certain we can accommodate the date.”

  She was going to scream.

  “That is so past very short notice, Mother, that it’s ludicrous. The only gowns we have at the moment are the ones commissioned for the Lanceister Ball. There’s not enough time to commission for that ball and attend this one as well. And we’ve already committed to the Lanceisters; we can’t back out,” she reminded her mother, pushing her fingers deep, deep into the pockets of her capris to hide her fists. “Perhaps Director Wyatt should just look into a later announcement to the press. One that isn’t so—”

  “We’ve already discussed it with the Lanceisters and Mr. Wyatt, Gypsy,” Jason informed her firmly, pointedly ignoring the sharp look she directed his way. Since when the hell was he king of the mountain around here? “The party was arranged a bit quickly, but the caliber of the guests demands a more formal atmosphere and dress. Never fear, there’s time to arrange more dresses for this fall. You and your mother could even make a trip to L.A., perhaps, and do a bit of shopping there. Or New York.”

  She wanted to curl her lip into an insulting little sneer as Jason watched her with an unfamiliar gleam of triumph. What the hell was his agenda with this little party anyway? Getting her and her mother on a shopping trip? Did he really think it was going to work like it did in the movies? They’d come home all mushy-mushy and her parents would have forgotten the part she played in Mark’s death?

  She didn’t think so.

  But, as he said, getting new gowns wasn’t an issue. It was the idea of such short notice for such a very important event. Press notices needed to be arranged, a list of guests needed vetting and discussions were needed with the reporters affiliated with McQuade Image Consulting to discuss the articles that would best portray the Breeds as benefiting the area socially and financially.

  The fact that Wyatt was acting as though this were something that could just be thrown together worried her even more than the dress situation did.

  She let Jason and her parents ramble on about opportunities, clients and contracts, unwilling to burst their bubble. Hopefully, Jonas Wyatt wasn’t playing some cruel hoax at Commander Breaker’s behest and could manage to do his magic as normal until her parents could pull in their own magic. If this was some game, or joke, then she just might sue.

  Or threaten to anyway.

  Even she had heard about the hungry volcano Jonas was rumored to introduce his enemies to on occasion.

  It was enough to make her want to kick Wyatt and his commander.

  “A car will be picking us up for the ball,” her mother informed her as Gypsy came to her feet, preparing to leave the office. “You can have the next week off to get ready. Be sure to call the boutique this afternoon and see if Connie can get you in before the meeting this evening.”

  Connie.

  Gypsy almost sighed.

  That was a very subtle hint that her mother thought her hair needed trimming and her nails might need some work. Greta McQuade was very particular about appearance when it came to McQuade Image Solutions. She slid an unobtrusive look to her nails.

  Okay, she might need a manicure.

  “And the meeting with Director Wyatt and his commander is this evening, don’t forget.” Her mother was sounding more worried now than she had moments before. “I’ll call Connie and see if she can’t get both of us in within the next few hours myself.”

  Connie loved her mother.

  The beautician had nearly gone bankrupt several years before, and it had been Greta McQuade who had used a few favors, worked a little magic, and within six months, Connie’s salon couldn’t keep up with the influx of appointments being requested. Gypsy had no doubt in her mind that Connie would schedule them within the next two hours.

  “Just let me know,” Gypsy replied in resignation.

  She couldn’t refuse the job, couldn’t let her parents down like that. And from the small, satisfied smile on Jason’s face, he knew it.

  “Gypsy.” Her father’s quiet voice had her turning to him, his somber features warning her of what was to come now. And it was a discussion she simply couldn’t face.

 
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