Defender Hellhound - Zoe Chant Page 0,1

wry glance, like he was about to smile. He didn’t, though. “Don’t worry about it. Like you said, it was a reasonable assumption.”

For the first time, she had a chance to get a good look at her would-be rescuer. She’d noted before that he was tall and lean, and had discovered for herself the strength in those wiry muscles. Now she saw that he had auburn hair, currently extremely windswept, a handsome angular face with high cheekbones and a strong chin, and dark brown eyes like wells that went deep, deep down. They were eyes that caught her attention, that made her want to look more…

Something about that impulse made her nervous. She broke off eye contact and tried to observe the whole of him objectively. What would she think of him if she was back at the circus, running a roulette table and considering him as a possible mark to be scammed?

I’d decide that he’s not a mark, she thought instantly. He’s much too smart. And observant. In fact, if I saw him around, that game would turn into an honest one until he went away, in case he figured out the whole thing and decided to call the cops.

Natalie wasn’t sure exactly what about him had made her think that, but she trusted her judgment. After all, she’d been raised by con artists. If they couldn’t make accurate snap judgments about people, they’d try to con the wrong one and end up in jail.

She tried to get more of a read on him, based both on observation and prior experience. Intelligent. Brave. Self-sacrificing. Self-possessed. He didn’t seem the slightest bit shaken by having unexpectedly tandem BASE jumped off a cliff. And he knew how to fight. That suggested a military or first responder background… but then again, the same could be said about her, and she was a civilian.

He wore navy pants, a white button-down shirt, a brown jacket, and shoes that looked like they belonged in an office but had soles suitable for running in. The whole ensemble was neither noticeably cheap nor noticeably expensive. It didn’t particularly suit him, but it didn’t look bad on him, either. If she’d passed him in the street, she’d have guessed “college professor.” But that didn’t square with the rest, unless your idea of a college professor was Indiana Jones.

And all that time he’d stood there in patient silence, studying her as she was studying him.

“Okay, you got me.” She offered him her hand. “I’m Natalie Nash. Who are you?”

He reached out his own. Long fingers, big knuckles, small scars from burns and cuts and scrapes. A handyman? A chef? Then those long fingers closed around hers, and the crackle of sexual chemistry that passed between them made her stop guessing. She looked up at him, startled, back into those deep dark eyes.


She’d be dead in a year. The absolute the last thing she needed was to fall in love.

“I’m Ransom,” he said. “Ransom Pierce.”

Goddammit, she thought again. Double dammit.

Natalie yanked her hand from his grip. “You’re Merlin’s buddy from the Marines! He sicced you on me!”

He looked startled. “No—”

“You’re telling me there’s more than one tall redhead named Ransom Pierce?”

“No, I am Merlin’s…” He seemed to choke on the word “buddy,” and instead said, “I did serve with him in the Marines. And we do work together now. We’re both bodyguards in a private security agency—Protection, Inc: Defenders. But he didn’t sic me on you.”

“Okay, so sic was a bit of an unfair word,” she admitted. “Let me rephrase that. He sent you to find me.”

Ransom shook his head. “I came of my own accord. Merlin has no idea I’m here, or that you’re in town. All he knows is that you left the circus and you didn’t tell anyone why.”

Natalie didn’t believe that for an instant. “We’ve never met before, you’re buddies with the guy who’s practically my brother, and you just happened to turn up here? Why, because you had a psychic vision that I was about to jump off a cliff?”

That wry, maybe I’m thinking about smiling look reappeared on his face. “As a matter of fact, yes. That’s exactly what happened.”

His words had the ring of absolute truth. If he was a liar, he was the best she’d ever encountered. And Natalie, like Merlin, had been raised by expert liars. Professional liars, even.

Which reminded her that the woman who’d raised her was a fake psychic, and had taught Natalie how to pretend to have a