Nick UnCaged (Santuary #4) - Abbie Zanders

Chapter One


“Stone, you’re on the Calder story.”

Gabriella De Rossi schooled her features into a polite, I’m happy for you mask even though she was disappointed.

Of course, her boss had given the undercover sex-club story to Hunter Stone. If she were the chief editor, she would have made the same call. Hunter was the whole package. Journalism degree from Northwestern University. Paid internships at the Times and the Post. Not to mention, the man was charming, smooth, and had more connections than the city’s free Wi-Fi.

What did she have in comparison? A BA from State, an empathic nature, and a knack for stumbling unaware into virtual hornets’ nests.

“And, De Rossi ...”

Bree’s ears perked up along with her hopes that her next assignment would involve something more interesting than a pygmy-goat rescue in Utah or a tree-hugging nudist colony in North Carolina, comprised entirely of senior citizens. The goats had been cute, but she still had nightmares about the nudists.

“There’s a new place opening up in Pennsylvania for veterans with issues. Take a week, check it out, find the angle.”

Veterans with issues. Just like that, her bubble of hope burst with a silent pop. She wasn’t going to a scandalous sex club in Vegas, but a facility for troubled service people. In Pennsylvania.

Hunter gave her a sympathetic smile. Or was that pity?

“Sure, boss,” she said squaring her shoulders. She picked up the file her editor had pushed in her direction and gave it a cursory glance. She’d look at it in more depth later—after some of the frustration at being passed over again for a good story had a chance to fade.

Charlie, a.k.a., editor-in-chief of the Sentinel Voice, handed out several more assignments—all of them more interesting than hers—and summarily dismissed the half-dozen journalists assembled in his office with a few terse commands.

Bree stepped to the side while the others filed out, then closed the door and turned to look at the man gathering his papers.

He exhaled heavily, and without turning around, said, “Stop looking at me like that, De Rossi. You know I couldn’t give you the Vegas story.”

“Why not?” she demanded, keeping her voice low enough not to be heard beyond the room. “Hunter’s been with the paper for six months. I’ve spent the last six years working my way up from a grunt in the mailroom to getting that cubicle in the team room. Are you ever going to give me more than puff pieces and human-interest stories?”

“Stone doesn’t have the same family history you do, De Rossi. Doesn’t your family have controlling interests in half the casinos out there?”

Bree bristled. “They’re not my family.”

Charlie continued, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Besides, you’re good with the human-interest stuff. You actually give a shit.” He grumbled the words, as if caring about people were a bad thing, and dismissively waved his hand.


“Look, kid, you’ve got heart, but you just don’t have it in you to go for the jugular. You need those killer instincts to get the big stories, capisce?”

She had killer instincts! She did. In fact, she was feeling rather stabby at that very moment. And it wasn’t just because Charlie felt the need to use the word capisce every time they had a conversation.

Instead of doing something she’d regret, Bree swallowed her frustration and headed back toward her workspace—one of many identical desks in a large, open-air space. The closed-door window offices around the perimeter were reserved for interviews and people higher on the publication’s food chain.

A wave of expensive male cologne arrived a full second before the man wearing it appeared.

“Don’t look so glum,” Hunter commanded, leaning casually against Bree’s cluttered desk and reaching for one of the Squirrel Nut Zippers she kept readily available.

“Says the man who’s flying out to do an exposé on a super-secret sex club of one-percenters in Vegas,” she replied miserably.

“A week in the Poconos sounds pretty sweet to me.”

“Then why don’t we trade? You interview a bunch of moldy old vets and I’ll go to Vegas.”

Hunter tapped the tip of her nose with his finger, his eyes sparkling with affection. “You? In a BDSM club? They’d eat you alive, sweetheart.”

Bree sniffed, indignant that Hunter believed she was such a marshmallow even if it was true. Since it had been ages since the last time she’d had sex, even longer since she’d had good sex, getting eaten alive didn’t sound like such a bad thing.

Hunter leaned back again and smiled, daring her to disagree. The sad thing was, he was right. Beyond reading