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Musings of An Independent Artist
When greedy land developers set their sights on Dark Sentinel land, Torin, a sentinel wolf shifter, turns to attorney Stephanie Bates for help, but she’ll need his protection to stay alive long enough to save his land.
Real estate lawyer, Stephanie Bates, has risen to the top of her field through meticulous sacrifice and goal setting. She has no time for distractions – and that includes pets, messy relationships, and loose ends.
Torin DuMont is a forensic scientist who chose the profession to avoid dealing with people as much as possible. Raised by a stepfather who hated him, he’s been forced to live a life of solitude, fueled by anger and distrust. When wolves and shifters start turning up dead, Torin must battle an enemy bent on destroying those he was born to protect. His greatest challenge, however, is Attorney Bates and the surprising effect she has on his heart.
“Dark Sentinels Book Two: Torin”
Torin stormed into the building and hit the heavy glass office door with a thud. He stepped in to close the door, his back to the foyer of the large office suite, and heard quite a few more startled heartbeats than he’d expected to find there this time of day.
He took a deep breath, pasted a calm expression on his face, and turned around. He really needed to get his temper in check, fool's errand or not.
The law office was uncomfortably full. A scared-looking secretary, assistant, whatever the hell she was, gaped at him, so he added a closed-mouthed smile and approached her desk. He thought she’d jump up and run when her heart beat even faster, but she batted her big gray eyes and her thin lips curved into a timid smile. “M-may I h-help you, sir?” He never understood his effect on humans. He wasn't even sporting his usual scowl, but the moment he walked in, the tension was palpable.
"Yes. I have an appointment with attorney Bates."
"I am so sorry, M-Mr. DuMont. I sent you a message yesterday morning."
Torin wondered briefly if she realized she leaned away from him as her heart rate increased yet again.
"Your appointment was canceled because Ms. Bates had urgent business this morning. I...I... requested that you call to, um, reschedule."
When Torin stared at her, she fumbled for a calendar. "Um, Mr. Dumont, she can see you on..."
Torin glanced at the calendar, noticed she was looking at dates for next month. He interrupted, unable to restrain the growl in his voice. "I never got a message, and I left work early to come here. I'll wait."
Torin turned before she could say anything, leaving her mouth slightly open when he moved to the opposite wall, faced her, and crossed his arms over his chest.
That bastard step-father of his sent him on a fool's errand. Torin was certain the asshole had received and erased the message to reschedule.
Torin hated lawyers, and couldn't believe he'd allowed his childish desire for his stepfather's approval to waste his time again. He shouldn't even be here trying to help people who never gave a damn about him.
He watched the receptionist pick up the phone and overheard every word she whispered into the receiver following a distinct buzz from the adjoining office."...yes, he's here. He's from the Wild Lands. Yes, I already told him..."
A sigh from the other end triggered a tingling sensation in his lower abdomen. "...Cindy, I can't possibly see anyone else today. Just resched..."
Cindy, apparently the name of the jumpy little receptionist, stood and left her desk, headed in the direction of the lawyer's office.
Torin didn’t have to leave his spot against the wall to overhear Cindy and the unavailable Ms. Bates. “…I tried to reschedule him already. He won’t leave! Steph, you haven’t seen him. He’s huge, and he walked in looking pissed. Not a good combination. I started to call for James to escort him out of the office, but I like James...”
Both women shared a laugh. “No, no need for all that. You offered him another appointment, he chose to wait. Let him wait. I’ll deal with him if he doesn’t get tired and leave.” Who are these people everybody's so afraid of? I've been here over a year, keep hearing about them, but haven't actually seen one yet! She laughed again. “I keep saying I need a peep-hole in this door. You’ve piqued my curiosity, now. Wish I could work him in. I'll speak to him myself and try to reschedule if he's still here when it's time for you to leave."
“Guess I’ll go back out here and get glared at some more. I doubt he’s going anywhere, Steph.”
Torin stepped outside several times to stretch his long legs, finding fewer clients waiting for Ms. Bates on each return. He sensed the sun had gone down before he stepped over to the small window and looked out. He saw the grounds as clearly as if daylight greeted him. Finally, one man remained in the waiting room with him, but it was well after six p.m.
He picked up a pleasant scent, mint, lemongrass, and lilies, and turned just in time to see shapely legs, a voluptuous body full of promise, and the warm mocha-colored face wasn’t bad, either. She glanced at the other client and headed straight for Torin, arm extended to shake his hand as she called over her shoulder. “Go on home, Cindy. No need for both of us to stay overtime.”
Cindy was out of the office in a flash, glancing back apprehensively as she closed the door.
“Mr. DuMont? I’m Stephanie Bates.”
Torin nodded and grasped her hand, but did not return her smile.
She cleared her throat before she continued. “I wanted to personally apologize for the appointment mix-up, but…”
“No mix-up. What I need will only take a few moments.”
“Unfortunately, I was unexpectedly called in on another case this morning, and...”
“Not my problem.” He glowered down at her, then turned to look at the only other client in the office.
The other man, or would-be client, slid from his chair and scurried through the exit.
Torin returned his gaze to Stephanie and lifted a brow. "Looks like you have time to see me now."
Stephanie’s smile disappeared, and her full lips formed a firm line of disapproval.
Good. Now she knew how he felt.
Stephanie turned and walked away from him without another word until she reached the phone. “Get out! Get out of my office!” The words were spoken as she hit a buzzer, then she spoke quickly but calmly into a speaker. “James? I know it’s time for you to leave, but I need you to escort someone from my office first, please.”
Torin sighed and left before James entered. He realized his behavior was ridiculous, and gritted his teeth out of regret. The thought of reporting to his stepfather that he’d failed to procure Ms. Bates’ counsel made him want to howl – and not in a good way.
He stepped off the elevator and walked slowly to his truck, hesitant about leaving. The parking garage was nearly empty. He slid into the driver’s seat, still in slow motion, and tilted his head back against the head rest to think. Ms. Bates was relatively new in town, but her reputation preceded her – she was the best in her field. If anyone could help save Wild Lands, she could. What a fuck-up! As usual, he’d managed to win friends and influence others. He was so much better with crime scenes and dead people.
Stephanie pressed her hand over her heart to slow it down. Torin DuMont had to be the rudest man she’d ever come in contact with, and she’d met her share of rude men! Thing was, this one didn’t even seem to realize he was rude. He didn’t even give her a chance to finish a sentence, interrupting her with that deep, scratchy voice.
“Want me to see you out, Ms. Bates?” James interrupted her thoughts. He stood in the doorway, a quizzical look on his weathered face.
“Uh, no. No, James, that won’t be necessary.” She smiled, attempting to put him at ease. She couldn’t believe she’d allowed that strange hooligan to upset her so easily! She also couldn’t believe Cindy had neglected to tell her Mr. DuMont was hot sex on a big stick! The moment she spotted him, she’d wanted to melt and climb up his big hard body, or climb him and then melt. Either way, climbing and melting were involved. Dark hair, just a bit too long to be respectable, nearly basketball star tall, shoulders made for clinging, if she was into that sort of thing, but his eyes – stormy gray eyes. How could someone who looked that good make her want to slap him so quickly?
Her body reacted, warm honey flowed from her breasts to her core, just thinking about his eyes. He wore a lab coat with his name engraved on it, and he’d said something about taking off work to see her, so he had to be somewhat civil to keep a job in the medical field. Didn’t he? That voice of his wove magic along her spine every time he spoke, despite his bad manners.
Steph shook her head, grabbed her purse and briefcase, and stepped onto the elevator. Cindy had said the residents of Wild Lands were a strange lot. Why the hell am I still thinking about him?! It was late. She’d stop by Luigi’s for takeout, chicken and shrimp carbonara, a glass of wine, maybe two, and take a hot candlelight bath when she got home. She deserved it. It had been a crappy day, especially dealing with Mr. DuMont!
The elevator door slid open to the parking garage and she stepped out, the clicking of her heels echoing as she walked across the concrete floor.
Just as she reached her car, someone grabbed her from behind. She opened her mouth and managed to get out a short scream before a large, meaty hand clamped over her mouth.
“Shut your mouth, bitch!”
Steph used her heel, stomping down on the instep of the one who held her with as much force as she could muster.
“Grab her legs,” he hissed, “We oughta do her ass right here!” She realized there were at least two more. Her neck throbbed with pain, and one of them tied a thick cloth around her face to blindfold her.
"Nah, we oughta have some fun with her first. I mean, look at her. What a fuckin' waste of female!"
"Shut up, stupid. He said for us to bring her to him first. Needs to find out how much she knows."
Steph struggled, attempting to jab her keys into the faces of her assailants, but the large, muscular arm clamped down on her arms tighter, wrenched them behind her and cuffed her wrists, making movement impossible when they lifted her completely from the ground and started carrying her. She heard what sounded like a sliding door – a van or SUV door? Oh, God! Unable to scream for help or even move, she prayed silently.
Torin heard Steph exit the elevator. He heard each click of her heels with his extra sensitive hearing. He even heard the whisper of her keys as she started to unlock her car door, but he also heard heavy footsteps – three pairs – men’s – coming up behind her. After that, he overheard her short scream, and everything they said. In addition , he smelled her fear and their malicious intent.
He was in motion within seconds – silent, deadly. He didn’t dare shift away from Wild Lands, but the added strength of his wolf surfaced, seething with anger as he neared the men attempting to shove Ms. Bates into a large blue van. According to Sentinel law, any man who tried to hurt a woman deserved nothing short of death. Lighting in the parking garage was dim, but his preternatural vision allowed him to see every detail as if aided by sunlight.
He’d used his claw-like nails to slit the throat of the man holding her from behind before the other men even knew he was there. He tossed the body aside like trash as the attackers gasped and dropped their victim. One tried to climb into the van as the other ran around to the driver’s side, but Torin sliced into the back of the first one before he could climb into the van, lifted him, and broke his back in one swift motion. He started around to the driver’s side of the van but the last man skidded away and out of the garage before he could reach him.
He turned, closed his eyes, and slowed his breathing. The lawyer had managed to crawl closer to the garage wall, and sat there shivering with fear.
Torin was surprised and thankful for her silence. She turned her head from side to side as if trying to figure out what had happened, what she had just heard. He sighed and looked at the two dead bodies he couldn’t even begin to explain to himself. He knew he had anger issues, but he’d never felt the level of fury he’d just unleashed on the attackers of a human woman who had commanded that he get away from her just moments before. What the hell was he thinking?
“H-hello? Hello? Is, is someone there?” She spoke, bringing his attention back to her.
He removed his blood-stained lab coat, walked slowly toward her, and stooped down. “It’s okay. I’m just gonna get this off you, okay?”
“They’re gone? I heard …th-there were at least three. Who? Where?" As if it suddenly registered that her attackers were gone, she took a deep breath and lowered her voice. "You saved me,” she whispered, her voice so soft, Torin doubted a fully-human man could have heard her.
Torin broke the cuffs in half and removed them from her hands, then gently untied the blindfold and removed it. He stood and stepped around in front of her, holding out his hand to help her up.
She inhaled quickly. “You! You saved me?!” She frowned and pressed her back against the wall.
Torin recoiled, took a step back, and gritted his teeth. “I’d think when somebody saves your uppity ass, you wouldn’t give a damn who it is.”
Just then, she wrapped her arms around herself and burst into tears. Her entire body shook as silent tears rolled down her face. She made no attempt to stand or move away from the wall.
Aw hell! Torin couldn’t help himself. He took a step toward her, bent, and scooped her up in his arms like one of the children at Wild Lands.
Steph knew she was in shock, but she also knew she wanted to crawl into this man – this savior. God only knew what she would have gone through before those men killed her, and she knew they were planning to kill her, she just wasn’t sure why. If Torin DuMont hadn’t saved her. Why did they run? Sure, Torin was huge, but he was still just one man against at least three. In that moment, she decided she didn’t care.
She laid her head on his shoulder. His skin radiated feverish heat to the touch as she pressed her forehead to his neck and placed her hand over his heart. The steady beat of his heart and the heat of his large, muscular body calmed her for some reason, like curling up next to a crackling furnace. He carried her as if she weighed nothing, his breathing steady, barely perceptible as he set her gently on her feet beside her car. Too soon. She hated to let him go, clinging to his t-shirt a moment too long even after he set her down.
He bent to pick up her keys, briefcase, and purse from where she’d dropped them. When he faced her again, his previously stormy gray eyes were calm, almost caring.
“My sister’s on her way. You shouldn’t drive. I’ll take you home and she’ll follow us in your car.”
She let out a stuttering breath and nodded, racing through memories in an attempt to figure out why someone wanted her dead. Absently, she wondered how his sister knew what was going on. He hadn’t made a phone call, and no one was with him, but moments later, a tall, gorgeous woman the spitting image of Torin arrived. He gave a half-hearted introduction. “My sister, Tasha.”
“Steph. Please call me Steph.” Like Torin, Tasha didn’t smile, but simply took the keys from his hand, lifted an arched brow, and slid into the driver’s seat. As if they’d communicated, she already knew exactly what to do.
Torin started at Stephanie’s feet and allowed his gaze to travel the length of her body. “I’ll carry you in my truck. Can you walk okay?”
“I-I think so.” She glanced down at her legs. They felt like they could give out on her at any moment, but she’d enjoyed being in his strong arms just a little too much. She needed to keep her feet planted firmly on the ground. The last thing she needed was to become dependent on someone else.
And what was up with Torin and his sister not saying a word to each other, yet she knew exactly what to do? Did this kind of thing happen to them all the time? Steph knew she was frazzled, but she was sure Torin and his sister hadn’t spoken a word aloud in her presence. There had been a few pointed looks, mostly from Tasha, but not one word – not even a whisper. Weird.