It’s more than whether you win or lose; it’s how you play with your prey.
Joy Bermin’s sweet crush on Quince Castille went sour when he got involved with a psychotic feline who nearly destroyed the pride. That bastard is dead, but now Quince is trying to convince her he had nothing to do with it.
She’s been doing her best to ignore him, but the stubborn panther is always underfoot. When he tricks her into seeing how good things could really be between them, she’s stuck between dismay and desire.
Just when Quince was ready to prove his love for Joy, that mess with the pride shot his credibility all to hell. Trickery is the only way to break her resistance and show her the truth. And holy hell, that woman could melt steel with her heat.
Between trying to pin her down and dealing with upstart cats out to destroy what he’s worked so hard to rebuild, Quince is through playing by the rules. Whatever it takes to make Joy his mate, it’s on the table. And God help anyone who gets in his way.
This title has been previously released
Quince spent the next day about twenty miles west of Cougar Falls, in Whitefish, avoiding the pregnant females of the pride, dodging the aggravating gray wolf mooning after some woman with the sense not to give him the time of day, and conspiring with Dean. Late last night, he’d quietly spoken with Dean’s older brother. Protocol demanded he deal with the local pride leader while in town. Burke Chastell fit the role easily. Strong, confident, smart.
The way Michael used to be.
Quince experienced another pang of homesickness, wishing for a past that could never be. Better to focus on the now, he thought as he hid in the feminine day spa catering to Ac-taw and humans alike. Thanks to the Hunter’s mist he’d sprayed over himself to mask his scent, he was all but invisible. And if Dean hadn’t totally screwed him over, he might just have a shot at getting Joy under his hot, hungry hands. A glance at his cell phone told him he had another five to ten minutes before she was due to show.
His cell phone buzzed. Noting the familiar number, he swallowed a groan and answered in a low voice, “What now?”
“Easy, big guy.” He clearly heard his lieutenant’s amusement. Quince could imagine Jace Alexander kicked back in his chair, his long legs crossed at the ankles, his feet on the ancient scarred desk in Quince’s office. The big blond was deceptively lazy, but he could move like lightning when prodded. “Just checking in, as ordered.”
“Any problems with Ayers or Watson?”
“Nope. Greg, Darren and their weak-ass posse are keeping quiet. Too quiet, if you ask me, but Ellis and I have it covered. When are you getting a third lieutenant to help out, anyway? This domestic crap is über annoying.”
Tell me about it. Just another reason Quince didn’t want to be pride leader. Petty problems annoyed him. He grunted. “I’m working on it. But how hard can mediating the mating habits of cougars be? That’s why we pay you the big bucks.”
“Excuse me? Have you raised my salary when I wasn’t looking? ‘Cause I’m thinking that telling Genevieve she can’t buy a new car with Pride money to make Karen jealous and handling Alicia’s pissy attitude about Susan mating her brother should net me some friggin’ hazard pay.”
Not having the patience to deal with any females other than Joy at the moment, Quince muttered a hasty, “I’m busy.”
“I’ll bet you are. Busy with that fine Joy Bermin.” Jace whistled, and Quince wanted to jack him up by his throat.
“Talk to you later,” he snarled, hung up on Jace’s laughter, then pocketed his phone.
His friends at home thought his plight with Joy was the funniest thing going. Quince knew the bastards had been betting on how long it would take him to nab the sly female. That’s if he could. Odds were in his favor, but that wasn’t factoring Miles into the equation. What a freaking headache.
Joy needed to be wooed. He knew that. Problem was, the woman wouldn’t sit still long enough to let him court her. Date her. Take her. Hell, he’d do anything to get her attention. But it seemed nice didn’t work with her. Her older sisters, now they’d be pleasant. Twins Amy and Melissa had never had a bad thing to say to him. Stacey…well, she and Dean deserved each other. Too pretty and arrogant by half, she was a female version of Miles.
And good old Miles. The jerk was a stand-up guy most of the time. Had a terrific sense of humor, great luck with the ladies and money coming out his ass. Too bad his head was stuck so far up that particular orifice that he couldn’t see the truth for what it was. Quince had a bad feeling he and Miles would come to blows before the idiot would see how mistaken he’d been about Quince’s part in Michael’s death and the pride takeover.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, sensing a tension headache growing.
The doorknob against the far wall turned, and he froze behind the slatted closet door. The older woman who preceded Joy gave the closet a subtle nod. For a hundred bucks and Dean’s voucher, she’d been more than happy to play secret matchmaker.
“Okay, Ms. Bermin. You can take your robe off and hang it there.” She pointed to a hook on the wall. “Mannie will be with you shortly. Just lie down on the table, close your eyes and let yourself relax.” Crappy New Age music piped through overhead speakers in the ceiling.
He was in hell. Until Joy grinned.
She looked adorable in a white terrycloth robe two sizes too big for her. Though by no means short, she still came to a few inches below his chin. But she had curves in all the right places. So damn sexy. The only dark-headed Bermin amidst so many blondes, she had short, spiky hair, mischievous jade-green eyes and a mouth made for sin.
Just thinking about their one and only kiss aroused him.
“Terrific,” Joy said. “I was stressed out. But I tell you, that mineral bath was amazing.”
The spa attendant smiled and lit a few candles, giving the room an herbal smell. Lavender? Maybe rosemary? He didn’t much care, except that the candles would help cover his scent even more.
“We’re Whitefish’s premier spa. Of course, I’m biased, but when my friends ask what I want for my birthday, I always tell them a gift certificate for this place.” The woman laughed. “Your sister Stacey agrees. I was so excited to learn that the Bermin line was coming to Montana.” She made a bit more small talk about high fashion and Stacey’s new plans to expand her designs, then left Joy with instructions to lock the door behind her, because her massage therapist would enter through the other door. The one right next to the closet.
After the door shut behind her, Joy went over to lock it, then turned and unbelted her robe. She hung it on the wall and let out a deep breath, looking relaxed for the first time in ages.
Good Christ. His mouth dried, and he found it hard to breathe.